Olympic Dreams is already a film more known for its gimmick than anything else. The first film to be entirely shot within the Olympic village (in this case, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter ceremony), is a bit claustrophobic in its scope. Leads Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas (wife of director Jeremy Teacher, who is a former Olympiad herself) have an easy chemistry between them, as 22 year old skier Penelope, and 37 year old volunteer dentist Ezra. The film is admirable for how it portrays this age gap without transforming into something uncomfortable, where the two feel like equals and doesn’t cause any intrusion. The romance is heartfelt and honest; two lonely people brought together at the right place and the right time. However, the film’s setting is often indulged in to the point where the story feels unfocused, and has moments where it feels like a stretched out Super Bowl spot.
The gimmick is quite similar to Escape From Tomorrow‘s secret Disney shoot. In this case however, it feels less of a statement and more of a commercial. Contrary to Escape’s smug pride in secretly shooting a horror film in a theme park, Olympic Dreams has a legitimacy that feels almost too approved. It feels so generic as if it was a fake trailer put together for an hour-long commercial break between ski-jumping and curling broadcasts. Heavy amounts of Olympic merchandise flash on screen — likely to show the loneliness within how corporate the event is — which only end up making the film feel like sponsored propaganda. A world tour of faux-local hotspots is one of the more authentically delightful moments in the film; a dance through food, art, and culture that brings people together in this strange place.
Between the sports advertising, it’s about two lost souls coming together. Ezra is frequently awkward and Penelope is petrified to be alone in such a crowded place. She begins the film by saying she never feels quite ready to be there; she never feels like she belongs at the Olympics until she can compete and prove herself. This fear of not belonging is the film’s greatest strength. Olympic Dreams is strongest when it portrays the immense loneliness of the Pyeongchang village, allowing it to finally feel human instead of like one of many athlete introduction clips. The film is frequently in great danger of coming off in this way in the first twenty minutes, showing too much Olympic regalia, as if to brag about its unique setting. However, when Ezra and Penelope come together, sparks fly between the two, and they get deep into the struggle of sports achievement versus getting to have lived the life of any other adolescent.
We are best able to connect with Penelope when she is alone. She is curled in bed, waiting for something to tell her where she belongs, as she clutches an armful of sponsored stuffed tigers. These logos are everywhere, and at times they teeter on the edge of meaning where they overwhelm with the loneliness of the soulless advertising. When Penelope is alone, or with Ezra, we begin to feel for her, and Alexi Pappas proves herself to be the true star of the film. Olympic Dreams is a back-to-basics romantic comedy with a unique setting. It’s nothing to write home about, but it has some lovely, tender moments between shameless commercialism and a perfectly formidable date entertainment.
Olympic Dreams opens in select cinemas and VOD on February 14th