Movie Review: Pappas meets Kroll in Korea — “Olympic Dreams”

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While there’s a lot to be said for “sexual heat” in a screen romance, there’s nothing all that romantic about the slam-against-the-wall, bruising hurry that too many screenwriters (male, mostly) figure is “love language” in the movies.

The ache of longing beats “biff, bam, thank-you ma’am” every time.

“Olympic Dreams” lives on loneliness and longing. It’s a loose, delightfully-improvised romance, grabbed on the fly by a minimal crew during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Writer-and-actress Alexi Pappas has graduated from “Tracktown” to full-fledged Olympian this time. We meet Penelope as she weeps into the phone, leaving voice-mails to her coach back home about about how well it’s gone since her arrival in the Olympic Village.

She’s lying.

Isolated, in and out of competition, she is the very picture of the Loneliness of a Long Distance Skier. Cross-country is her event.

Nick Kroll is a dentist on a “busman’s holiday.” Ezra gets a free pass into the Olympics and meets lots and lots of athletes. Because during the day, he deals with their dental issues as a “volunteer.” Kroll, an under-utilized EveryComic, turns Ezra into EveryDentist — a bit of a mope, unwillingly “on a break” from his fiancee, inclined to talk the ear off anybody in his chair.

Every conversation he has with a patient feels made up on the spot.

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Ezra sits down opposite Penelope in the dining hall, interrupting her headphone-induced solitude. The banter is awkward, almost-cute and he steps off with all the grace you’d expect of Nick Kroll (“The House,” “Adult Beginners”).

“I believe in you and I’m rooting for you. Break a leg!”

We think it, he mutters it as he exits. “Idiot.” NOT the smartest thing to say to a cross country skier.

Her event opens the games, and Pappas, having made athletic films something of a specialty, beautifully acts-out the anti-climax that not winning at this sport in this event you’ve been preparing for since childhood. She is a loner who has never been more alone than this moment.

But she runs into the dentist again. He’s 37 and looks it, she’s 22 and pierced and lithe and athletic and just as awkward. He seems a little troubled by the patient/doctor line he might cross. So they hang.

The footage grabbed on the run here gives “Olympic Dreams” a real fly-on-the-wall quality that “Eddie the Eagle” lacked. They’re in the gift shop, in the game room where athletes “relax” before and after competing, wandering the venues, watching “skeleton” sledders practice, breaking down the art of “curling,” then sneaking a private slide down the ski jump.

She holds a winner’s medal, something she’ll never have — “It’s HEAVY. And beautiful. And you’re very beautiful (to the winner). I’m sure it looks beautiful on you.”

They wander the South Korean city that was home to this Olympiad and look in on an eSports (video game) cafe — a room full of computer screens and nerd-athletes mastering their games.

“This reminds me of the saddest years of my middle school,” he snarks. She’s just coming to grips with all that she never had time to do until now.

“Birthdays, prom, bar mitzvahs — I missed…everybody’s everything!”

And then they fight — over how tentative he’s lived his life, how selfishly she’s lived hers.

Pappas and Kroll master the art of blending personality with character, so much so that we recognize the actors behind the role, but forget the line between them as they offhandedly remark on this or that and almost never say anything that feels scripted.

They turn a chilly environment warm and a conventional story into something surprising, lived-in, with the glorious romantic ache that too many romantic comedies can’t be bothered with.

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Cast: Alexi Pappas, Nick Kroll, Morgan Schild and Gus Kenworthy

Credits: Directed by Jeremy Teicher, script by Alexi Pappas, Nick Kroll and Jeremy Teicher. An IFC release.

Running time: 1:23

 

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