The Bronze (2016)
108 min., rated R.
Like Billy Bob Thornton’s “Bad Santa,” Cameron Diaz’s “Bad Teacher,” and Jason Bateman as a children’s spelling bee saboteur in “Bad Words,” Melissa Rauch plays a foul-mouthed, washed-up Olympic gymnast in “The Bronze,” an acrid and admittedly funny but simultaneously uneven black comedy for which mainstream audiences may not be prepared. Best known for her perky work on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory,” Rauch pulls no punches in the script she co-wrote with husband Winston Rauch, even as the piece-of-work creation she plays verges on one-note and just plain horrible. It comes as a shock to see the actress this prickly edged and uncompromised in her first lead role, but if "The Bronze" works at all and there's a reason worth feeling bad for laughing, it's because of Rauch’s daring, go-for-broke comic performance.
Ever since she tore her Achilles tendon and then won the Olympic bronze medal against the Russians in 2004, Hope Ann Gregory (Melissa Rauch) has seen herself as a star in her hometown of Amherst, Ohio. Never taking off her U.S.A. warm-up suit, she lives as if no time has passed, living at home with mailman father Stan (Gary Cole) and still receiving an allowance. Instead of looking for a job, Hope wastes money at the mall, or milks her third-place stardom for a free lunch at Sbarro, and steals money from letters on her father’s mail route. When Hope's estranged mentor Coach P. (Christine Abrahamsen) dies, she receives a letter that offers her $500,000 under one condition: coach 16-year-old gymnastics prodigy Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), a virginal, good-natured ball of enthusiasm, and take her to the Toronto Games. At first, Hope stops at nothing to sabotage Maggie, whether that means fattening her up with burgers and shakes or lacing her protein shake with marijuana, but might have a change of heart when it means getting that money and competing against cocky gold-and-silver winner Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan). Hope will always think highly of herself as a “poster child for miracles,” but maybe the awkward gym manager Ben “Twitchy” (Thomas Middleditch), an old acquaintance with a facial tic, will thaw out her heart.
Grade: B -