What happens when you reach the high point of your life in your teens? How do you face the many years ahead that will never be that good again? At least you assume nothing will ever reach that pinnacle of joy. The Bronze is the story of a young woman who has never gotten over her success.
Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch) was a world class gymnast who became America’s Sweetheart after she battled on after a terrible injury to do one last routine that raised the US team to a bronze metal. Now, a dozen years later, she still lives in her father’s (Gary Cole) basement, wears her Team USA gym suit every day, watches the video of her triumph, and relishes being the most famous person in her small town of Amherst, Ohio. She is foul-mouthed, rude, demanding, thieving, and self-destructive, but everyone seems to love her, or at least tolerate her, because she put their town on the map.
Now Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson), a young gymnast prodigy, is in town to train with Hope’s former coach. When the coach dies, Hope gets a letter from the coach offering her a $500,000 inheritance if she coaches the newcomer through the next games. But for Hope, this could mean the end of her status as the town’s celebrity. Will she undermine Maggie, or teach her what she needs to know to move to the next level? Toss in a minor romance story with the local boy carrying a torch for Hope after all these years and a rival coach (a good looking male gymnast who won individual gold rather than a team bronze) and you have the elements of a story that offer the possibility of change and growth.
I should note that I don’t much like Hope; I’m not supposed to. The film goes overboard in the effort to make her as unlikable as possible. I think they overdid it a bit, because by the time any change may happen in Hope, we have moved beyond caring. And while there is transformation that does happen, it never seems quite plausible that this despicable young woman could change so much so quickly.
But really, that likableness is not the real issue. Hope is someone who has stopped living because of the success she had all those years ago. Rather that enjoying her fifteen minutes of fame and going on to the next phase—possibly using the lessons of discipline and hard work to conquer something new—she has created her cocoon to keep the fading glory at bay. There is a line from the play Man of LaMancha: “Soft and fair, my friends; in last year’s nests there are no birds this year.” The past, especially a very happy past, may seduce us into wanting to stay there. And nostalgia can be a very pleasant thing if kept in check. But for Hope the past is a trap that has held her for too long. The way forward is to find others whom she can share, not her past, but her future with. It is the tomorrows that give life meaning.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics