The story behind Olympic Dreams is very cool. This is the first film ever shot in the Athletes Village during the actual Olympics. Aside from star Nick Kroll, everyone else who appears is a real Olympic athlete. There are sights here that no other fictional motion picture has been able to capture. Unfortunately, what I've just told you is also the only true appeal of the film. It's a shame that such unprecedented access was squandered on a paper-thin story that goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing.
Kroll plays Ezra, a dentist who has flown to Korea to volunteer with the Olympics. He's got an ex-fiancee back home he hopes to get back together with, although from the sad phone calls he makes to her that seems unlikely. One day in the cafeteria, he meets a cross-country skier named Penelope (long-distance runner and 2016 Olympian Alexi Pappas). She apparently has no teammates or coaches, because she's alone and isolated. The two start hanging out, and before long seem to develop romantic feelings. But of course, she's scheduled to go home soon, so acting on them seems unwise.
Olympic Dreams strives to be like Richard Linklater's Before trilogy, but set at the Olympics. There's no plot here, just one scene after another in which Ezra and Penelope walk and talk (or sometimes sit and talk). The difference is that Linklater's films were tightly scripted, so that the things the characters said to each other had meaning. This one, on the other hand, features dialogue that is flat and generic, with no humor, no weight, and no real drama.
That, more than anything, is the movie's major downfall. Pappas and her husband, director Jeremy Teicher, had access to the Olympic Village. While shooting shorts for the Olympics, they decided to simultaneously improvise a romantic drama that would unfold amid the amazing locations at their disposal. Olympic Dreams plays just like the made-up-on-the-spot lark it is. Far more emphasis is placed on capturing the various sections of the Village than on the story. As such, the alleged bond between Ezra and Penelope never feels authentic.
It doesn't help that Kroll and Pappas have zero chemistry together, nor that Pappas gives an unconvincing performance. His sharp comedic style is blunted because Ezra isn't supposed to be funny, while she exudes one note of depression throughout the film. If they had a spark together, or if they were given compelling stuff to say instead of seemingly winging it, the movie might have played better. Instead, we quickly grow bored with these two characters as they go through their cliched Will they or won't they? dance. Skier Gus Kenworthy has a small supporting role as a fellow Olympian Penelope encounters; he at least feels natural. Too bad the film wasn't about him.
As a travelogue, Olympic Dreams has some interest. Going behind-the-scenes at the Olympics is neat. As a romance, though, it falls completely flat. Making one work requires a lot more than great scenery. It takes characterization, plot development, and smartly-crafted dialogue – elements this movie simply doesn't have.
out of four
Olympic Dreams is rated PG-13 for some language and sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.