Olympic Dreams

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Olympic Dreams
"Olympic Dreams brings warmth to these snowy vistas and finds a special kind of joy that might be impossible without the loneliness surrounding it."

There's a particular romance about those places that we visit only occasionally, magical places outside the scope of day to day life. How much more so if only a select few people, having overcome significant challenges, ever get to go there? Set in the background of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and actually filmed in the Olympic village there, this is a romantic comedy with a very different character from most films in the genre. It's awkward, raw and very down to earth for a story full of people who routinely reach for the stars.

The story focuses on Penelope (Alexi Pappas), a young cross country skier whose event takes place so early in the Olympics that she barely has time to find her feet after arriving and, when it's done an she's out of the competition (the reality for most athletes, of course, if not for those we normally see in films), she doesn't know what to do with herself. The village is full of excited young people who are drinking heavily and sleeping around, but it's not really her scene - she has always been focused on training and recoils from the kind of irresponsible behaviour that might interfere with that routine. The only person she really feels able to relate to is Ezra (Nick Kroll), a volunteer dentist a decade her senior, but there's only so many times she can reasonably ask him to look at her teeth.

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For his part, Ezra is a big fan of athletics in general and thrilled to have the opportunity to work among people he admires. He's quite a grounded guy, however, and has been in a serious relationship which may or may not be about to collapse - they're 'on a break' - but which still means a lot to him. Though he's awed by Penelope's ability and keen to restore her faith in herself, he doesn't really know how to cope with her coming on strong. He has a very different perspective on what a sexual encounter could mean, yet as he finds himself more and more drawn to her as a person, we gt the sense that a romantic encounter is becoming impossible to avoid, even if they never name it as such.

There's no room for glamour here and neither actor is prettified. What we see feels real and yet full of unusual potential, like the surreal world of bare ski ramps and toboggan runs glimpsed when there's no-one else around. When the two share a brief kiss inside a bar carved out of ice, the ephemeral nature of the experience could not be more stark. Nothing here is built to last and yet it feel much more real than in most romantic films - sometimes heartbreakingly so.

With plenty of observational comedy to temper that bittersweet edge, Olympic Dreams brings warmth to these snowy vistas and finds a special kind of joy that might be impossible without the loneliness surrounding it. It's witty and smart but never to a degree that endangers its vérité quality. Superb acting from both leads and good supporting performances from the real athletes roped in to assist bring this delicate romance to life and give the film staying power. Most of us will never get to the Olympics but most people will find something here they can relate to, and something that matters.

Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2020
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Olympic Dreams packshot
When a young woman discovers that her lifelong dream of participating in the Olympics doesn’t match up to reality, she finds herself adrift amongst the crowds. That is until she befriends a volunteer dentist, forging a bond which forces them both to rethink their courses in life.

Director: Jeremy Teicher

Starring: Nick Kroll, Alexi Pappas

Year: 2019

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US, South Korea

Festivals:

Glasgow 2020

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