Directed by Jeremy Teicher
Written by Nick Kroll, Alexi Pappas & Jeremy Teicher
The Olympics are incredible. I love the Olympics. They’re such a great competition that unites the world if only for a few weeks every two years. The competition and the stories that come out are compelling and fascinating and the fanfare that seems to be built up worldwide around the games is a joyous celebration of humanity, again, even if only for a few weeks. The Olympics are special, so it is curious there are not more narrative films which surround them. But with Olympic Dreams, Jeremy Teicher and his wife Alexi Pappas has crafted a new film which celebrates that very event, while also telling a pseudo-romance.
Penelope (Alexi Pappas) is a cross country skier for a non-descript nation, competing at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. She arrives in Korea in preparation for her event, which is set to go off shortly after the opening ceremony. She seems aloof and socially awkward, unsure of herself, her talents, and her future dreams. Ezra (Nick Kroll) is a dentist whose relationship with his fiancee seems tentative at best. He volunteers for the same PyeongChang olympics. When Penelope and Ezra cross paths, they begin to build a friendship with romantic undertones, guiding them both through their confusing issues and the excitement of the Olympic games.
It should be said upfront that this film is produced in association with the Olympic Channel, which means that a lot of the depiction of the games is being curated, which is neither here nor there as it pertains to the story being told my this movie. However, it also means that the film partially plays as a commercial for the Olympics. This means that Teciher, Pappas and Kroll had access to the actual 2018 Winter Olympic games in PyeongChang, South Korea. And it’s extremely effective in that endeavor. The best moments in the film are actually the cinema verite style interactions between Penelope, Ezra and the athletes at the games. There are montages that effectively capture the feeling of being an athlete at the Olympics, and the thrill of winning and competing.
However, this commercial is not the entire movie, which is otherwise very bare bones and somewhat disappointing. Pappas and Kroll are capable performers, and while the cinema verite style is at the core of this production, their scenes together are so quiet, sparse and limited that the narrative is very thin and superficial. There are moments built up to comment on the two of them being in similar headspace: unsure of their futures, unsure of what their lives will look like after the Olympics are over. For Penelope, it’s all she has known, and must decide whether to pursue another 4 years, or move on to living the rest of her life, while Ezra needs to decide how to move on from his fiancee after his escape to the Olympics. The two performers are just super awkward together, and while it is evident that is what they are going for, it did not work for me.
What seems like a project meant to mirror what Richard Linklater accomplished with his stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke with the Before trilogy, Olympic Dreams lacks the same verve and chemistry between its lead performers. There are items of interest throughout, including both the experience of the Olympics and the relationship between the two uncertain characters, but in general it did not come together with any convincing or lasting message. Ultimately, I found the film to be far too flimsy in its narrative to work effectively. Kroll is a likable presence, Pappas is a likeable presence. It has its moments, but in the end is less than the sum of its parts, which results in a disappointing cinematic experience from a project that had the elements to be something greater.