Bobby Boucher. Happy Gilmore. Ricky Bobby.
Now you can add Melanie to that list.
The sports comedy is far from a new genre. Everyone loves an underdog story but the structure and style of these films are usually unbelievable, formulaic and totally predictable.
But when they’re done well, they’re so much fun.
Directed by Maureen Bharoocha, Golden Arm tells the story of Melanie (Mary Holland), a recently-divorced baker who’s struggling to stay afloat financially. When her best friend Danny (Betsy Sodaro) convinces her to participate in the Women’s Arm-Wrestling Championship, Melanie feels completely out of her depth. Lost in a world of muscles, costumes and competition, Melanie must rediscover what it means to be strong in order to compete against the reigning champ and a shot at the grand prize.
While the film certainly checks all the sports movie boxes, Golden Arm remains an absolute joy from start to finish. Silly and frenetic, Arm pops along with an infectious glee. Anchored by fun and lively chemistry between Holland and Sodaro, the film works on just about every level. Using her vast comedic experience, Sodaro’s performance has the right balance of energy and enthusiasm to make even the slowest of scenes entertaining. At the same time, Holland’s sincerity grounds the film even though she still fits in with the silliness of her surroundings. Together, their relationship provides the emotional core that holds Arm together in the midst of the wild onscreen antics.
It also goes without saying that some of the charm of this film lies in the fact that it is centred around women. While female-driven comedies are far from rare nowadays, they still remain scarce amidst the sports genre. Although these films have historically held onto the mantra of ‘boys being boys’, Arm uses these tropes to its advantage. By reversing stereotypical roles such as the ‘attractive love interest’ or the ‘obsessive villain’, the film serves as a reminder that the true joy of this genre lies in the journey of its charismatic hero, regardless of gender.
At its heart though, Golden Arm is film about finding your strength. Finally free from her abusive marriage, Melanie is struggling to start over. Strapped financially and trapped emotionally, she appears to have lost her way in life. However, after Danny drags her into the world of arm-wrestling, Melanie finds more than a path to glory.
She finds her strength (and joy) again.
Although she’s initially skeptical (or even judgmental) about the world of arm-wrestling, there’s an empowerment within it that breathes new life into Melanie. With each victory at the table, Melanie grows in confidence and inner strength, bringing a refreshed sense of happiness into her life. (Incidentally, this emotional arc is illustrated well by her evolving characters names as she moves from ‘Freaked Out’ to the inevitable ‘Golden Arm’.) As Melanie works her way through the competition, so too does she work on herself.
And, for her, that’s the ultimate victory.
Endearing and amusing, Golden Arm plays to its strengths. Though the story may feel familiar, its charismatic performances and breaking of stereotypes help the film somehow seem fresh. Backed by Sodaro and Holland, the film fights for your affections and will absolutely win you over.
Golden Arm is available on VOD on Friday, April 30th, 2021.