This is my fourth Sundance Film Festival, and every year I’ve returned, I always forget how lousy I feel for the first 24 hours. This morning when I woke up I had that, Hoo, boy, how much did I drink last night? kind of grogginess. Then I remember, Oh, yeah, I’m living at the top of a mountain for a week, that’s why I feel bad.
Yes, the Sundance Film Festival kicked off Thursday evening with all the glitz and glamour only Sundance can offer. (That was a fun sentence to write, but the reality is that press screenings occur in a strip mall next to a Sports Authority.) Last year, the opening night movie was Whiplash and that movie just received a Best Picture nomination. Will lightning strike again for– Actually, I’m just going to go ahead and cut that sentence off and say “No, it didn’t.” Anyway, let’s jump right into what we saw at Sundance, day one.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Admittedly, I didn’t know as much as I should have known about Nina Simone. This is embarrassing! So, I was looking forward to this documentary more than anything as a history lesson. Simone’s life is fascinating – as the first half of the film takes us through her failed attempt to be a classical pianist, her marriage to a man who beat her, and her involvement in the civil rights movement. Her force in the movement is so strong, that at times it felt more like a companion piece to Selma than it did the story of Simone’s life. (This is a compliment.)
Simone’s songs eventually became too political for mainstream venues — which hurt her career while others with, perhaps, less talent flourished. The second part of the film explores Simone post-fame and her often erratic behavior that alienated friends and family.
What Happened, Miss Simone? explores a truly remarkable life in what’s a pretty OK documentary. Simone’s life is so extraordinary, I just wanted to know more about it. But the film has a bad habit of showing way too much of her performances when it reverts to concert footage. In other words: the film will have a great pace going, then it comes to a halt as we watch five minutes of one song. Yes, Nina Simone is a great performer and, yes, that footage should be in the film – but it should have been truncated. Every time another full song is shown, it just kills the momentum.
Regardless, pacing aside, What Happened, Miss Simone? did fulfill my wish of learning more about Nina Simone. And I never imagined what I learned would feel so tragic.
The Bronze opens with Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch) masturbating to her Kerri Strug-like Olympic gymnastics bronze medal victory that happened a decade prior. It was a bronze medal win that captivated the country, but Hope has now fallen on difficult times — she steals cash from her father’s (Gary Cole) mail truck (this is why your parents told you never to send cash in the mail; also: what’s “mail”?). Hope gets a chance to make something out of her life when a new gymnastics prodigy (Haley Lu Richardson) needs a new coach after her old coach (who was Hope’s coach) dies suddenly.
I laughed four times during The Bronze. Considering how lousy and tired I feel, that’s not a bad number. It certainly has some funny moments, but it’s also all over the place. Characters make decisions that completely betray everything we knew about them for no reason other than to drive a plot forward that’s trying to service way too many things at once. There is no reason in the world that The Bronze should be almost two hours long. This movie could still be crude without everyone being an asshole. (This movie has a grand total of two characters in it who aren’t assholes.)
On the plus side, it does feature one of the funnier sex scenes I’ve seen in quite some time between Rauch and Sebastian Stan. (Or, at the very least, it’s the most athletic sex scene that I have ever seen.)
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.