Movie review: ‘The Bronze’ should be disqualified

Melissa Rauch in ‘The Bronze’
Melissa Rauch in ‘The Bronze’ Sony Pictures Classics

At first, The Bronze seems audacious. It presents us with an absolutely repellent character and doesn’t back off. Not only does it avoid softening up the protagonist, but in every scene it doubles down and makes her worse. Based on the first 15 minutes, one could easily assume this film to be a really nasty farce — and a potentially interesting one at that.

But it turns out that The Bronze isn’t setting up a farce. What’s really going on is that the filmmakers are digging themselves a hole, one they will want to climb out of but find themselves unable. Little vague smiles won’t do it. Nor will the script’s deciding, midway through and for no reason, that our heroine is not too bad after all.

Alas, The Bronze almost has the courage to be appalling, but instead it gives us the worst of both worlds — it’s unpleasant and gutless.

“The Duplass Brothers” are the first words that we see in the opening credits. Jay and Mark Duplass have written and directed some of the best low-budget independent films of the past 10 years, but they only produced this one, and they shouldn’t have done even that. Lending a quality name to a weak product can’t help the product, but a few more endorsements like this will weaken the brand.

The Bronze was co-written by Melissa Rauch, who stars in the film as Hope, a former gymnast who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics, despite a serious injury. Her story made for a dramatic moment and caused her to become America’s sweetheart for a brief flicker of time. When we first meet her, she’s watching her old Olympic footage and masturbating. Give Rauch credit — she’s not even trying to be subtle.

Small, blond and insanely fierce, Hope is like a grown-up version of Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed. She is brutally foul-mouthed, contemptuous and hostile to her father, and pathetic. She goes around in her 2004 Rome Olympics jacket and relishes her stature as a town celebrity. So when another local gymnast emerges as an Olympic prospect, Hope wants to undermine her.

A movie about a horrible person can be enjoyable, and if such a movie is a comedy, even better. But a movie about a horrible person whom everyone mistakes as merely gruff is just playing with an audience’s understanding of reality. Likewise, you can’t give us Lizzy Borden in the first act and then, in the third act, expect us to worry about the muscle pain brought on by swinging an ax. Audiences are willing to be led, but they’ll never just agree to be stupid.

As it stands, The Bronze is just clumsy, caught between the same conflicting impulses it tries to depict — the compulsion to be outrageous and the desire to be loved. There’s a nude scene that comes out of nowhere that’s almost embarrassing.Why is it there? Like the movie itself, it’s almost daring, except it’s not.

The Bronze

(out of five)

Director: Bryan Buckley

Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole

Rated: R (strong sexual content, graphic nudity, strong language throughout and drug use)

Running time: 108 min.