Former Olympic gymnast's The Bronze faces tough fight

Melissa Rauch (left) plays foul-mouthed gymnast Hope Annabelle Greggory in The Bronze.
Melissa Rauch (left) plays foul-mouthed gymnast Hope Annabelle Greggory in The Bronze.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

NEW JERSEY, OHIO • Shiny leotards, corny music, bouncy pigtails and scary determination. When you think of a female gymnast, all those associations might come to mind. What does not is a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed, allergy medication-snorting adult woman with ample cleavage.

But that is Hope Annabelle Greggory, a former Olympic gymnast and the central character in the dark comedy The Bronze, which opened last Friday.

Hope, created and played by Melissa Rauch, probably best known for the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, is a bronze medallist who suffered a career-ending injury when she was 15. She is struggling to move past her disappointment at home in Ohio. She steals money from the mail truck of her father, a mail carrier; gets high with a sneaker salesman at the mall; and lives off freebies from her adoring town.

The movie is both a sendup of sports films and a subversive comedy that lampoons the world of gymnastics, while wrestling with the complexities of fame, especially when it comes young.

Written by Rauch and her husband, Winston Rauch, directed by Bryan Buckley and produced under the umbrella of Mark and Jay Duplass, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year.

It gained attention right away for its sharp, twisted humour and a gymnastics-inspired sex scene, in which every possible move is employed to shocking and hilarious effect, bars and rings included.

Even so, like many indie movies, its path to the screen has not been easy. Relativity Media picked it up with much fanfare at Sundance for US$3 million (S$4 million) and scheduled the release for that July. But that month, Relativity filed for bankruptcy.

Last September, Sony Pictures Classics agreed to distribute the film to about 1,100 screens.

Even before the post-Sundance detour, Melissa Rauch had to fight for the film, her first feature. "This was my Rocky," she said. "Other producers said they wanted someone with more box-office experience to play it, but I held on. I'm so glad I did."

The idea came to her when she returned to her hometown of Marlboro, New Jersey, after gaining some early attention on TV. At the mall, she was given a free pretzel after being recognised, a scene repeated in the movie.

"It made me think: 'What does fame do to people? How does it change them?'"

Gymnastics provided a natural setting. "I'm four-11," she said. "I wasn't going to play a WNBA star."

The film, which also stars Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan and Haley Lu Richardson, took 22 days to shoot and was partly re-edited after some poor reviews at Sundance.

"We write everything together," Rauch said, describing the couple's process. They met during freshman year at Marymount Manhattan College and have been together for 14 years. The first show they wrote for her was The Miss Education Of Jenna Bush, part of the New York International Fringe Festival in 2005.

Her interest in women who behave badly has continued since she played Jenna and The Bronze tests the boundaries of what it means to play a female antihero. She said she and her husband were inspired by movies such as All About Eve (1950).

"She's salty and promiscuous and I wish there were more female characters like that," she said. "There just aren't enough roles out there that allow women to be anything but nice. It's like if you let yourself eat a burger only once in a while, that burger has to be perfect, but it's not going to be complex."

But getting audiences to go see a movie that is not formulaic has become harder. The marketing reflects the realities. She is doing video vignettes and there is marketing on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

Despite the challenges, the couple are thrilled that their film is finally arriving in theatres.

"I'm so proud of my wife," Winston Rauch said. "I witnessed every scene and yet she's not recognisable to me. In reality, she's the sweetest person on earth."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Former Olympic gymnast's The Bronze faces tough fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe