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The Bronze

D: Bryan Buckley / 100m

Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Cecily Strong, Haley Lu Richardson, Christine Abrahamsen

The cast of hit TV show The Big Bang Theory are all talented actors and actresses. But although they’ve all found fame and fortune through appearing on the show, some of them want to be known for more than their TV roles. And that’s a fair enough ambition. In recent years, Kaley Cuoco has broadened her horizons with movies such as Authors Anonymous (2014) and Burning Bodhi (2015), while Simon Helberg has worked with his wife, director Jocelyn Towne, on I Am I (2013) and We’ll Never Have Paris (2014). Now it’s Melissa Rauch’s turn to branch out, and in doing so, she makes sure that the image of her as the helium-voiced, large-breasted Bernadette Wolowitz (neé Rostenkowski) is done away with completely.

With her hair tied back and sporting a mono fringe that keeps her eyes hooded for the most part, Rauch’s incarnation as 2004 bronze-winning Olympic gymnast, and hometown heroine, Hope Ann Greggory is as far from the squeaky, shiny Bernadette as you could get. She’s rude, crude, unnecessarily aggressive, has an ego the size of the Olympic rings, and is content to live off her past glories as an Olympic gymnast. Stores and restaurants in her hometown of Amherst, Ohio let her have freebies, while her long-suffering father, a postman called Stan (Cole), has to contend with her stealing money from the mail he delivers. She won’t get a job, looks down on everyone around her, has never been in a relationship, and always wears her 2004 TeamUSA jacket with sweatpants.

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Years before, after suffering a recurring injury that ended her gymnastics career, Hope fell out with her mentor, Coach Pavleck (Abrahamsen). But with Pavleck’s recent, untimely death, Hope receives a letter that gives her the chance to inherit $500,000 from Pavleck’s estate – but only if she coaches Amherst’s newest hope for gymnastic glory, “Mighty” Maggie Townsend (Richardson), and gets her to the upcoming Olympics. Threatened by the idea that Maggie might eclipse her fame and become Amherst’s new town heroine, Hope agrees to coach her but the training regime she comes up with leads to Maggie putting on weight, being unable to focus, and messing up her gymnastic routines. But Hope’s efforts to sabotage Maggie’s future come to a halt when ex-Olympic Gold medallist Lance Tucker (Stan) baits her into coaching Maggie properly. Now all that remains is for Hope to coach Maggie in such a way that she’ll not only impress at the National Finals, but at the Olympics as well… but can Hope be that selfless?

Well, the answer to that one is obvious. Anyone who’s ever seen this type of movie, where the curmudgeonly, grumpy, outrageously inappropriate central character gets to say outrageously inappropriate things at every opportunity (and get away with them), will be unsurprised by the way in which Rauch and her co-screenwriter husband Winston have dictated the arc of Hope’s redemption. And while there’s more than a whiff of formula about everything, what some viewers may perceive as a major failing on the Rauchs’ part, is actually something that makes the movie far more interesting than expected.

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Although The Bronze is ostensibly a comedy, there are character elements that feel more at home in a drama, particularly a grim psycho-drama about a character who is unable to connect with other human beings due to a lack of compassion, and through mutual dislike. Take away the “humour” in Hope’s situation and you have a scenario that’s terrible for the way in which it shows how a person clinging desperately to fame, paves the way for, and ensures, their own downfall. Hope is a parasite, living off old glories and refusing to adjust to the reality of her present situation; she’s in so much denial she’s practically drowning. As a character with serious mental health problems, Hope is fascinating to watch, but as a foul-mouthed, shameless self-promoter whose attitude is “funny”, she’s not so fascinating.

Rauch appears so determined to portray Hope as a kind of anti-Bernadette that she moves too far in the opposite direction, spraying venom at everyone around her, and particularly at Stan, whose acknowledgment of his daughter’s situation is key to the main storyline. There are moments where Hope’s derisory treatment of her father begs the question, why would she be so dismissive of him and his love for her? On what level does that make her feel better? (Both are unfair questions: the movie makes no effort to explain Hope’s motivation for being nasty, she just is.) With other questions like these bouncing around throughout the movie – would love interest Ben (Middleditch) really find her so attractive as a person after being mistreated by her so often, and so callously? – The Bronze becomes an exercise in belief suspension that is increasingly hard to maintain.

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With its central character proving immensely unlikeable, even when she begins to slowly change into a more rounded individual (it’s a movie convention that seems extra tired here), it’s left to the supporting characters to make an impact, but thanks to the script, no one is allowed to overshadow Hope or her story arc. Cole is as good as ever, though under used; Middleditch and Stan are polar opposites as Ben and Lance, two caricatures of how men apparently behave; Richardson gives new meaning to the phrase “silly goose” (but not in a good way); and Rauch channels her inner bitch  with ruthless determination, setting her jaw against any notion of broadening the character’s appeal.

First-time feature director Buckley fails to make much of an impact, but does manage to generate some interest when Hope and Lance spin and whirl around her hotel room in a wonderfully choreographed sex scene that features sterling work from Rauch and Stan’s body doubles. It’s the one scene in the movie that stands out from all the rest, and without it, The Bronze would remain stubbornly parochial in its approach. Visually there’s nothing new here, and tonally it sticks to its hard-hearted groove even when it’s meant to be uplifting. In trying to move away from her role as Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory, Rauch has certainly managed to create a completely opposite character, but sadly, Hope isn’t someone you want to spend too much time with.

Rating: 4/10 – disappointing and badly misjudged, The Bronze is rarely funny, and thanks to its rampant female misanthropy, something of a chore to sit through; there’s the essence of a powerful drama buried beneath all the name-calling and rude behaviour, but unfortunately, that’s not the story that Rauch has chosen to tell.