A yarn about pursuing one’s dreams, however improbable, the modestly budgeted “Olympia” combines goofball situations and serious themes, to disarming effect. While pic has limited commercial prospects, filmmaker Robert Byington displays talent and the potential for wider commercial reach.
The story turns on title character Olympia Miraflores (Carmen Nogales), a Mexican television soap star obsessed with competing in the Olympics in the javelin throw. Neither her fans nor her trainer-manager (Damian Young) particularly like the idea.
Meanwhile, across the border in Laredo, Billy (Jason Andrews) is in a seemingly dead-end scenario. At thirtysomething, he’s still looking for a steady job, indulged by a mother who’s happy to let him slide as long as he stays close to the nest. He’s a mess in every possible department.
According to movie logic, it’s inevitable that the two will meet and enable each other to make some crucial life choices. That occurs after Olympia (via a swim across the Rio Grande) takes refuge in the back seat of Billy’s car. He doesn’t quite know what to make of the spear carrier, but soon adopts the idea of coaching her as she pursues her dream. The idea so outrages his mother that she locks him out of the house and leaves him a cookie jar of loose change to start a new life.
The whole notion is preposterous. Yet the filmmaker and his capable cast dig into the material with such conviction, one barely notices its outlandish nature. There’s just enough verisimilitude to give credence to Olympia’s athletic program and to Billy’s by-the-book training regimen. Unfortunately, once the story’s put in motion, there’s more incident than character development , and it sprints to what feels like an abbreviated yet labored conclusion.
Nogales deftly conveys her character’s resolute nature and insular disposition. But it falls to Andrews, as Billy, to provide pic’s emotional core. Slothlike and slovenly, he conveys Billy’s simplicity with enormous warmth. Equally vivid is Young as an abrasive, obsessive type who’s more attuned to the headstrong actress-athlete.
Tech credits are good, especially considering the pic’s blatant economy of means. Byington uses a pseudo-documentary approach, capturing the saga with vivid, direct images and a subtle, ironic score.