The 31st installment of North America’s preeminent showcase for independent cinema kicked off Thursday night in a torrent of female genitalia jokes, toilet humor, and an inspired flourish of gymnastic sex.
That is, sex literally involving gymnastics during which the actors perform back flips, splits, and pommel-horse dismounts onto and off of each other’s naked bodies.
Leading the Sundance Film Festival’s narrative features section, the raunch comedy The Bronze played to a packed house at Park City’s Eccles Theater. By way of introduction, the movie’s director Bryan Buckley heaped credit on star-screenwriter Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory‘s intimidating Dr. Bernadette), who wrote the film with her husband Winston Rauch. “They are husband and wife,” Buckley said. “Just keep that in mind and it will make it that much better.”
The Bronze centers on Rauch’s hard-swearing adul-escent character Hope Ann Greggory, a washed-up former gymnast whose small-town glory rests on her Olympic legacy. She claimed a bronze medal 12 years earlier by sticking an uneven bars landing after injuring her foot, a la Kerri Strug. Content to while away what’s left of her youth chugging Fanta, tearing around Ohio in an immense gold Buick, and snorting lines of allergy medicine, Hope Ann is shaken from her stasis by the sudden death of her gymnastics mentor Coach P. In a suicide letter, the coach pledges to leave her past-prime protégé $500,000 if Hope Ann will train 16-year-old gymnastics up-and-comer Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) for the Toronto Games.
Hope Ann’s initial impulse toward Tonya Harding-like ruination for the younger gymnast compels an unusual fitness regime—casual sex, a diet of fried foods, and marijuana smoothies—but eventually gives way to serious intent. And Rauch’s character ends up reclaiming a certain “Eye of the Tiger” focus pursuing Olympic gold. Along the way, there’s a romantic subplot involving nerdy gym owner Twitchy (Thomas Middlemarch of HBO’s Silicon Valley) and Hope Ann’s ex-flame-turned-gymnastics coaching nemesis Lance (Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Sebastian Stan) that culminates in that back-flipping sex scene. “When you’re 4″10″-and-a-half and 6’1″, you have to get creative,” Rauch said in a Q&A session after the screening, and added, “You write what you know.”
But overall, The Bronze functions mostly as a showcase for tiny dynamo Rauch, who can now rightly lay claim to a new renown as America’s top female comedian under 5’ tall. Milking her vertical challenges—and the kind of visceral jolt that comes from hearing a child-sized woman utter words such as “clit jizz”—for maximum laughs, Rauch used the Sundance spotlight to showcase herself as a kind of proto-Melissa McCarthy.
None of that, however, prepared viewers for the sight of indie mogul Harvey Weinstein serving as a kind of exit liason at the screening. He was stationed just outside the theater’s velvet ropes Thursday night dressed in a Simon Cowell-esque fitted black T-shirt, greeting and hugging a long-line of industry well-wishers as they left the theater.