CLEVELAND, Ohio — With its foul-mouthed, narcissistic, angry and completely unfiltered protagonist — a media darling with weird hair who spews insults and somehow bamboozles a lot of adoring fans — “The Bronze” perfectly captures the American zeitgeist.
The only difference between the movie and our surreal reality of the moment is that “The Bronze” is really funny, at least most of the time, while “The Orange” is turning out to be a little scary, and no joke at all.
“The Bronze,” a comedy vehicle for Melissa Rauch (“The Big Bang Theory”) that she wrote with her husband, Winston Rauch, asks the question: What happens to an America’s Sweetheart a dozen years past her glory, when her dreams have died and everyone except the gullible folks in her hometown have moved on to newer, cuter sweethearts?
What happens isn’t pretty in the case of Hope Ann Greggory (Rauch), a gymnast who captured the hearts of America when she tore her Achilles heel at the Olympics but went on to finish the competition, a la Kerri Strug.
Strug, you may recall, helped the U.S. team win the gold medal in 1996, when she performed an amazing vault routine on an injured foot.
Hope wins the bronze, a screenwriters’ tweak that makes her behavior 12 years later that much more absurd and pathetic. Riding on her third-place glory, Hope has become a monstrous amalgam of Tonya Harding and Johnny Manziel. Clad, always, in her official Olympic warm-up suit, she reigns over the cowed citizens of Amherst, Ohio, demanding fealty and free pizza.
The most cowed of those citizens is her father (Gary Cole), who created the monster but now has had enough of his daughter’s unending abuse and foul language. He wants her to get a job and stop stealing kids’ birthday money from the cards in his mail truck. Please.
Yeah, right. Not while there’s still a parking spot with her name on it in town.
When her former coach dies, a job materializes almost by magic. A posthumous letter arrives from Coach P, who promises Hope a $500,000 inheritance if she takes over coaching the new-model Hope — a sweet, innocent gymnastics phenom (Haley Lu Richardson) Coach P was grooming for the Olympics.
Here is the path to Hope’s humanity and the requisite redemption, leading to the happy Hollywood ending, right? Well, yes. “The Bronze” is edgy, but not unconventional. It softens Hope by surrounding her with supporting characters – Cole, excellent as always, and the gifted goof Thomas Middleditch — who still see the sweet girl hiding inside.
Still, the movie doesn’t abandon its gleefully caustic tone, or its often disagreeable (but just as often funny) protagonist easily. First there’s backstabbing, more insults, a little romance, a lot more swearing, and an elaborate scene in a hotel room that must be seen to be believed.
At that point, I had a vision of heads exploding in the MPAA screening room. More heads are sure to explode in multiplexes across America. “The Bronze” made me laugh, a lot, but it can be tedious in its insistence on the purity of its offensive humor. So it also will make plenty of people angry.
Just what we need, right?
Who: With Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole. Directed by Bryan Buckley.
Rated: R (for everything: relentless profanity, nudity, sex).
Running time: 108 minutes.
When: Opens Friday.
Where: Area theaters.