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'The Bronze' Is The Story Of A Mighty, Nasty Gymnast

Melissa Rauch plays Hope in The Bronze. i

Melissa Rauch plays Hope in The Bronze. Tiffany Laufer/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

toggle caption Tiffany Laufer/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Melissa Rauch plays Hope in The Bronze.

Melissa Rauch plays Hope in The Bronze.

Tiffany Laufer/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

If you've ever wondered how gymnasts have sex ... well, according to one new film, it looks like a gymnastics routine. There's a lot of vaulting and twirling, some precise, um, dismounts and even a pommel horse of sorts. This gold-medal event unfolds in the raunchy sports comedy The Bronze, and it brings to mind the juicy 2012 ESPN The Magazine peek behind the curtain at Olympic Village, a place where the world's most physically fit humans, once all in the same place, can get into some pretty lewd activities. (The athletes go through upwards of 100,000 condoms before the games are over.)

The sex scene is by far the boldest, funniest centerpiece in The Bronze. In fact, it often feels like the rest of the movie, which opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival before sitting on the shelf for over a year, is just an excuse for that scene to exist. At least it gives star and co-writer Melissa Rauch, a cast member on The Big Bang Theory, the chance to break away from just-dirty-enough network TV antics in favor of some actual dirt. She lets her blue streak fly with the accompanying red and white of the "Team USA" warm-ups she wears in every scene.

Rauch plays has-been athlete Hope Ann Greggory, who bronzed at the Olympics by prevailing over a performance-incurred injury that would later effectively end her career. It also appears to have ended her march toward adulthood. Ten years later, she's without a job in her hometown of Amherst, Ohio, living with and constantly insulting her abnormally permissive father (Gary Cole), and still riding her fame to score free Sbarro pizzas in the empty local mall. Hope's endorsement deals are drying up along with everything else in the town, but she's still only too happy to be the hometown hero for as long as it works to score free drugs.

Amherst is a real place west of Cleveland that really does bill itself (like in the movie) as the "sandstone center of the world." It's amusing, if a bit outside the lines, to read Hope's descent from America's darling to belligerent misanthrope as a wry commentary on the Rust Belt's own fall from economic grace. If director Bryan Buckley, who frequently helms commercials for the Super Bowl, had followed this line of reasoning, we might have wound up with a smarter film. Instead, we get a tale of reluctant redemption, as Hope takes over the coaching of a fresh-faced gymnast (Haley Lu Richardson, gifted at playing cavity-sweet) after her own former coach commits suicide.

Hope is a familiar figure in potty-mouthed comedies: the slacker whose quest to be selfish and lazy is undone in the end by her own deeply buried sense of compassion. What's unique is that she gets to be frank, dirty and outright mean in a way few other female film characters do. Initially feeling threatened in her position as queen of Amherst, she attempts to undermine Maggie's training in truly cringeworthy ways, and her profanity-laden free-associative threats have the quality of beat poetry. The fact that Hope is a gymnast is also a clever subversion of male-dominated sports films: she mocks her coaching rival, a former men's gold medalist played with superb jock itch by Sebastian Stan, by telling him nobody cares about men's gymnastics.

Yet ultimately the character of Hope is not as button-pushing or subversive as Rauch and co-writer/husband Winston Rauch believe she is. She's certainly not enough to justify wasting a supporting cast that includes Cecily Strong and Thomas Middleditch, or to carry the film once the arc of its universe bends back toward a standard moral redemption. Unlike, say, Charlize Theron in Young Adult, Hope's routine is only crass on the outside. Her soul hasn't actually been corrupted, but she puts on a big show.

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