Not every movie needs a likable lead character to be successful—that should be obvious to anyone who’s seen The Godfather or Citizen Kane. You don’t even have to sympathize with Michael Corleone or Charles Foster Kane to understand their plights or find them compelling. If a character’s just a dick the whole time, though, regardless of any catharsis, it’s tough to want to spend the runtime of a movie with them. I had a real hard time with The Wolf of Wall Street because I actively hated Jordan Belfort. (And that was a long movie.) I bring up all these renowned movies to illustrate a point, but also just to give me something to talk about in a review of The Bronze.
Starring The Big Bang Theory‘s Melissa Rauch, who also co-wrote the movie with her husband Winston Rauch, The Bronze is the story of one of the most unlikable and seemingly irredeemable characters in modern movies and how we’re meant to think it’s funny that she’s super foul-mouthed. Rauch plays Hope Greggory, a former gymnast won both a bronze medal and the hearts of America during the Olympics (which is never referred to by name), but who busted her foot in the process and immediately ended her career. Twelve years later, she still wears her Team USA track suit everywhere, uses her fame to get free stuff from her little town of Amherst, Ohio, and is a generally useless member of society who steals from the mail truck of her U.S. postal worker father (Gary Cole).
That is, until another girl in town (Haley Lu Richardson) who is poised to be an even better gymnast turns up in training with Hope’s former mentor. When the latter commits suicide, her note promises Hope half a million dollars if she trains the girl all the way to the Olympics. So she’s gotta do it, right? Even if she doesn’t want this girl to succeed and take all her glory. Helping Hope is the son of the owner of the gym (Thomas Middleditch), and opposing her is her former beau and a gold and silver medalist (Sebastian Stan) who wants to train the girl himself.
You pretty much know exactly where the movie’s headed; aside from a few subversions of expectation, it doesn’t diverge too much. The movie relies on the novelty of this specific variety of garbage person, the one who is actively horrible to people, is woefully uneducated of her own lack of volition, and who has maybe the foulest mouth of any character not played by Joe Pesci. (Actually, Pesci didn’t make nearly as many references to female genitalia.) The problem is that the things that make the character stand out are also what make her really unpleasant to spend time with. The reasons behind her attitude seem like they could have been easily avoided.
It’s not a terrible movie, weighing in at “perfectly watchable,” if nothing else is on, and Middleditch and Cole are both very good at playing the ones most often in Hope’s warpath. Plus, there’s something to be said for Rauch herself committing hardcore to the foulness of the character. But I didn’t laugh at all—I think I might have smiled once or twice—because at its heart, the movie feels incredibly cynical and mean spirited about the sort of small town people it’s depicting. And that kind of point of view is really hard to come around to in what ends up trying to be a touching comedy.
Image: Sony Pictures Classics
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!