The Sundance Film Festival got off to a raunchy start on Thursday night with the premiere of “The Bronze,” starring Melissa Rauch (“The Big Bang Theory”) as a washed-up Olympics gymnast. The R-rated comedy not only lived up to its pre-festival hype, it’s likely to start a bidding war in Park City. Here are five reasons why “The Bronze” could be a breakout comedy of 2015:
(1) Melissa Rauch Deserves a Gold Medal.
Rauch, who co-wrote the screenplay with her husband Winston, has never carried a film before. But she delivers the best breakthrough comedic performance by an actress since Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids.” Her character Hope Annabelle Gregory, a bronze-medal winning Olympics gymnast from 2004 who can’t get her life together after an injury, is part Tracy Flick from “Election,” part Sue Sylvester from “Glee” and part Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation.” But Rauch makes the role fully her own. She carries the racy zingers (there are enough masturbation jokes to make Judd Apatow proud), as well as the vulnerable scenes (there’s a sweet romantic subplot with Thomas Middleditch). Despite her hard-edged exterior, Rauch molds Hope into a likeable underdog.
(2) It’s Got Girl Power.
Last year, Sundance opened with “Whiplash,” the male-centric drumming drama. In some ways, “The Bronze” feels like the female answer to that. As Hope tries to escape her deadbeat existence, she starts training a young athlete named Maggie Townsend (the excellent Haley Lu Richardson), and she drags her through the same hellish hazing routine that J.K. Simmons inflicted on Miles Teller. But the material feels like it has more mainstream potential. In the right studio’s hands, “The Bronze” could be a commercial hit.
(3) That Sex Scene.
In a moment that will give “Fifty Shades of Grey” a run for its money, one of the best gags in the film takes place in the bedroom, during a heated night between Hope and her arch-nemesis Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan). At a Q&A after the film, Rauch said that she used a body double for the scene, but Stan did not. “I was happy to do it,” the actor admitted.
(4) The Dialogue.
The pre-festival comparisons of “The Bronze” to “Napoleon Dynamite” turned out to be accurate. This is a film that will be quoted by its diehard fans. And it gets bonus points for its soundtrack, which makes the best use of an Ace of Bass song in gymnastics history.
(5) The Rap at the End.
Rauch belts it over the credits, and it’s deliciously lewd. Is it too early to nominate a contender for best song at next year’s Oscars?