Courtesy of IFC Films
While the new romantic comedy “Olympic Dreams” doesn’t quite get the gold medal, settling for silver isn’t the worst consolation prize.
In “Olympic Dreams” - the new film from director Jeremy Teicher - characters are trying to discover the true meaning of becoming an Olympian. During the opening scene, athlete Penelope (Alexi Pappas whose an actual, real life, Olympian) rambles on the phone to her coach about doing her best and feeling like she accomplished her goals. Which, in turn, becomes the moral crux of this charming and sweet indie.
Penelope is a 22 year old cross country skier who befriends Ezra (Nick Kroll - in a subtle performance far removed from his zany comedic personalities) a volunteer dentist during the Olympic Winter Games in PeyongChange in 2018. The two quickly develop a unique bond despite the minimal time they have together. The screenplay isn’t complex in the slightest and Teicher pulls back the curtains on the pressure and lifestyle of athletes who attend the games and train their whole life to be there.
What makes this film unique is how the filmmakers were given unprecedented access to the actual quarters where the Olympians hang out and shot the film over the course of two weeks with heavy improvisation, in turn making “Olympic Dreams” feel all the more authentic. Penelope and Ezra explore Athlete Village and South Korea together, make some memories and are clearly enjoying their company. It makes for an engaging parlay between the two, and considering Pappas help co-write the screenplay with Kroll (not to mention her roots as an athletic beast) gives Penelope a raw and tender edge. Not to mention Kroll who tends to scream mild absurdities in a low-brow comedies, finds delicate moments to showcase his emotional side and it makes you wonder why he hadn’t stepped away from raunchy flicks sooner.
In other words, “Olympic Dreams'' is the first film shot in Athlete Village during the Olympic Games. So in between Ezra and Penelope’s adventures we’re offered a behind the scenes glimpse into the day to day operations of the games themselves. It’s an intriguing gimmick that almost plays as if it were a documentary, especially as the film uses real athletes for background and smaller, intimate moments, like when Ezra is doing their dental work. In the end credits, the film shouts those folks out and even includes their country and sport. Cool stuff.
Some of the softer moments don’t always land, and at times the chemistry that seems to brew between Ezra and Penelope fizzles occasionally. Plus it becomes a guessing game trying to figure out how much is scripted and how much Teicher let the performers riff until he yelled “cut!” Then again, the film's main goal isn’t to intimidate you with complex worldviews, but offer a simplistic story of friendship, which, set to the backdrop of the Olympics, proves to be a quirky gamble that pays off in the end.
Olympic Dreams opens at The State Theater in Ann Arbor on February 21st