One joke comedies rarely work, even when the one joke is “sex with a gymnast.”
And even when that one joke, a pommel horse punchline long before “Seinfeld” rendered it the object of every man’s fantasy, is delivered by that petite little Melissa Rauch of TV’s “Big Bang Theory.”
Liberated from broadcast standards, Rauch let’s her foul-mouth-flag fly in “The Bronze.” It reimagines a Kerri Strug/Mary Lou Retton “America’s Sweetheart”type as a promiscuous, bitter and foul-mouthed small town gymnast whose Olympic glory was doing one last routine on a busted ankle, taking one for the team.
A dozen years later, the “Amherst Angel” is still living in Amherst, Ohio, still wearing her Rome (nope) Olympics warm-up suit, still cadging freebies from the local diner, the Sbarro and Foot Locker at the mall, still refusing to move on.
The fact that we’re introduced to Hope Anne Greggory masturbating to videotape of her Big Olympic Moment in a dated, split-level house financed by her brief window of cashing in tells us all we need to know about her. Crude come-ons to any and all comers at the local bar underline that impression. You know, “sex with a gymnast.”
But the fusillade of f-bombs she hurls at her widowed, postman dad (Gary Cole) confirms it. She needs to get a job if she plans to continue this lifestyle.
“I don’t HAY-ev a lifestahll,” she honks in a hilarious facsimile of a Buckeye accent. She snaps her gum, inhales junk food, rifles the mail in dad’s truck for cash and refuses to even consider mentoring or teaching other gymnasts.
“I’m a CHAYEM-pion! Nawt a coach!”
But her own estranged coach has killed herself and left Hope Anne some cash. All she had to do is nurture another local star-on-the-rise, “the daffodil who is peeking through the snow” to the Toronto Olympiad.
Maggie’s a perky, squeaky-clean Christian living with her janitor-mom (Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live”) in a trailer park. Cute as a button and a walking muscle, she is tailor-made for stardom. Aw, shucks, she’ll overshadow Hope Anne in a heartbeat.
“Shucks? Why don’t you curse normal?”
Hope Anne may be an uneducated dolt, but she’s cunning enough to recognize a threat to her hometown celebrity. Can she overcome her jealousy and do what the great athletes-turned-coaches do? Make her protege better than she ever was?
Sebastian Stan shows up as the villain, a more successful ex-gymnast with bad history (sexual history) with Hope Anne. Thomas Middleditch is the small town guy Hope Anne cruelly nicknamed “Twitchy” in middle school. A love interest? What do you think?
Rauch and her husband co-wrote the script and anchor it in Melissa’s malleable voice and walking (very short) sight gag looks. Hearing such filth pour of that tiny mouth is hilarious.
And yeah, there’s a sex scene for the ages for all the prurient “sex with a gymnast/What’s Bernadette from “Big Bang” look like naked?” curious.
It’s just not enough. “The Bronze” is predictable, and outside of Rauch, Cole and a very convincing (conditioning, some training, clever editing) Haley Lu Richardson, the cast is bland. Strong has nothing to play, and nobody else makes an impression.
“The Bronze” is proof that one great joke is not the route to comic gold, or for that matter silver.
MPAA Rating:R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout and some drug use
Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Cecily Strong
Credits: Directed by Bryan Buckley, script by Melissa Rauch, Winston Rauch. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time: 1:48