By Lynn Venhaus
Alternately charming and frustrating, “Olympic Dreams” squanders its spectacular setting with a scattershot romance that ultimately is a letdown.
Two strangers in a strange land discover a mutual attraction during their stay at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PeyongChang, Korea. They are each at a crossroads in their lives. Penelope (Alexi Pappas) is a first-time Olympian whose cross-country skiing event is early in the games, so she hangs out with Ezra (Nick Kroll), a friendly volunteer dentist on a break from his fiancé.
While they explore the sights outside the Athletes Village and spend more time together, they confess being worried about the next step in their lives. Are they ready to take another leap into the unknown?
While the connection between two lonely out-of-their-comfort-zone people – a cross-country skier and a volunteer dentist at the 2018 PeyongChang Olympics – is intriguing, particularly set against the pomp and pageantry of the 23rd winter Olympic games, it feels too improvised and jagged.
I wanted to like this movie and these people much more, but after the time investment, was as unsatisfied as the couple.
Not that the film doesn’t have its merits. The youthful energy and uncertainty of a 22-year-old introverted athlete willing to pursue adventure is appealing in Alexi Pappas’ character. She certainly wants more from gregarious 37-year-old khaki-wearing Dr. E, who is funny and nice, but just too confused about his romantic status to take the next step.
When they are hanging out inside Olympic Village, it’s delightful. When they first arrive, you have a palpable sense of how overwhelmed they are by their surroundings.
This is the first narrative feature to be shot inside the Olympic Village, and its breathtaking at times. You can also feel the cold, with the backdrop of snow and ice Feb. 9-25 in Asia. The director, Jeremy Teicher, also served as cameraman, and the cinematography beautifully captures the majesty and grandeur of the setting.
The two performers also co-wrote the screenplay with Teicher, and they had a little gem of a genuine romance but its indecision and unfinished quality hinders its overall feeling.
But that insiders’ look into an athlete’s life at the Olympics and the backstage pass at events is its strongest suit. They used many real-life athletes in the film. In the end credits, they list what country each athlete is from and what sport.
And comedian Nick Kroll showing more vulnerability in a dramatic, less goofy role is another key element.
I wish all the well-intentions and lovely little parts had added up to a gold-medal victory.
“Olympic Dreams” is a romantic comedy directed b y Jeremy Teicher, starring Nick Kroll, Alexi Pappas, Gus Kenworthy. It’s rated: PG-13 for some language and sexual references. Lynn’s Grade: B-
A version of this review appeared in the Times newspapers — Webster-Kirkwood Times, South County Times and West End Word.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.