This patchy comedy about a cossetted, obnoxious gymnast who has slid deep into sloth in the decade or so since her Olympic triumph gets an occasional laugh from the American ills it sends up: jingoism, the sports-industrial complex, home-schooling, fast-food gluttony. The scattershot jabs pepper the flaccid storyline of the rehabilitation of Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch), that bratty uneven-bar has-been. But while the plot of The Bronze may be flabby, Rauch’s delivery is taut and tart.
Now in her late 20s, Hope, still living with her outrageously indulgent widower dad (Gary Cole), spends her days revisiting her past glory, diddling herself as she watches the tape of her third-place finish at the 2004 Games — a miraculous feat, considering that she completed her routine with a torn Achilles. Milking her status as Amherst, Ohio’s most famous resident, the ex-Olympian gorges on complimentary food-court slop and discount cannabis, always clad in an Old Glory warm-up suit (“This is what heroes wear!”) and sporting the bangs-and-ponytail hairstyle of Nadia Comaneci circa 1976. Hope’s path to redemption, hastily introduced and flailingly executed, demands that she train sunny, worshipful teen Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) and go soft for Ben (Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch), a too-nice guy prone to face spasms.
The Bronze marks the feature directorial debut of Bryan Buckley, a veteran helmer of Super Bowl commercials, who here reveals occasional inspiration, such as staging and shooting a sex scene between Hope and another 2004 Olympian as a riotous floor exercise. The film’s other novices don’t fare as well: This is the first feature-length script by Rauch, who co-wrote with her husband, Winston, and their screenplay sags with too many dead spots (such as Hope’s desultory chats with her mall pot supplier) and half-formed ideas (SNL’s terrific Cecily Strong, who, at 32, is bewilderingly cast as Maggie’s mom, languishes in an underwritten role).
But even if the lines Rauch wrote for herself miss more than they hit, the way she says them often kills. The actress, best known for the Betty Boop–voiced microbiologist she plays on The Big Bang Theory, gives the filthy-mouthed Hope an aggressively flat Midwestern accent, mercilessly pummeling short vowels, especially a’s. Never mind that the abominable athlete is the only Buckeye Stater in the entire movie who talks with such a harsh cadence: Rauch’s utterance of nacho and “That’s fucking gymnastics” transform dull words into hilarious musique concrète.