Sometimes you can take a comedic formula that’s been done a million times and make it feel fresh again by simply casting actors and actresses who aren’t generally known to the public.
“Golden Arm” is the kind of movie we’ve seen again and again.
It’s a silly comedy about two former college roommates who travel across the country to compete in an arm wrestling competition. One wants to get revenge against the cheating champion who broke her wrist in a previous bout. The other, an inexperienced arm wrestler with the lucky gift of a “golden arm,” wants to earn money to save her struggling bakery. And, of course, along they way they find themselves and rekindle their friendships.
Cynical critics might describe the two leads as Great Value versions of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. One is frail and timid and nervous. The other is unapologetically brash and vulgar with mannerism that resemble Chris Farley.
But it’s easy to look beyond the cliches and the formula in “Golden Arm” and appreciate its charm, mainly because of the enthusiastic performances from leads Mary Holland and Betsy Sodoro.
Both are veterans in the improv comedy community and you might have seen them in sketches on the Web site Funny or Die or heard them play characters on the podcast Comedy Bang! Bang!
Holland played Jonah Ryan’s cousin/wife in the final seasons of the HBO comedy “Veep” and she just had a breakthrough performance as the strange sister in the LGBT Christmas comedy “Happiest Season” on Hulu, a movie she also co-wrote.
This time Holland mostly plays the straight man to Sodero’s wacky character. Again, Sodero is playing the kind of role we’ve seen Melissa McCarthy do again and again but Sodero is her own person and her unique vocalizations and throwaway improvisations help make the character her own.
Dot-Marie Jones, a veteran actress and weightlifter, lend her talents as a coach who teaches Holland how to be an arm wrestling champion. Interesting enough, Jones was a world champion arm wrestler in real life at age 19 and her coaching advice in the film sounds like what she would normally tell people. Jones, who was thrice-nominated for an Emmy for her performance as Coach Biest on the hit Fox show “Glee,” throws herself into her performance and the audience is a little sad that her appearance is so brief.
The biggest problem with “Golden Arm” isn’t that it’s plot is cliche and formulaic. It’s that it takes its storyline far too seriously. It tries a little too hard to make us care about the characters, their struggles and their friendship. It might have been better off just being a complete spoof of an arm wrestling movie and not take character development seriously at all.
But in the end, this is a breezy 90-minute comedy that will likely give you at least two or three audible laughs in its run time. If you’re expecting laugh-a-minute hilarity or get turned off by vulgar language, then save the $7 and don’t rent this on-demand option.