Review: ‘Golden Arm,’ starring Mary Holland, Betsy Sodaro, Olivia Stambouliah, Eugene Cordero, Dawn Luebbe, Dot-Marie Jones and Ron Funches

May 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Betsy Sodaro and Mary Holland (both arm wrestling) in “Golden Arm” (Photo courtesy of Utopia Distribution)

“Golden Arm”

Directed by Maureen Bharoocha

Culture Representation: Taking place in Kanasas, Oklahoma, and a few other U.S. states, the comedy film “Golden Arm” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and the working-class.

Culture Clash: A mild-mannered baker is recruited by her truck-driving best friend to enter an arm-wrestling tournament.

Culture Audience: “Golden Arm” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a foul-mouthed but ultimately sentimental and predictable comedy film.

Dawn Luebbe and Olivia Stambouliah in “Golden Arm” (Photo courtesy of Utopia Distribution)

A movie as formulaic as the comedy “Golden Arm” can be enjoyable if the cast members make the film more interesting. Thanks largely to a charming performance by lead actress Mary Holland, “Golden Arm” is a breezy and occasionally raunchy story of how a shy baker ended up as a serious contender in an arm-wrestling tournament. Of course, the story is about much more than winning the contest and more about how what she discovers about herself along the way.

“Golden Arm” is the feature-film directorial debut of Maureen Bharoocha, who has a background in directing television (such as ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”) and short films. The “Golden Arm” screenplay (written by Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly) hits all the major clichés of sports comedies and buddy comedies. There’s a big sports competition with a high-stakes prize for the protagonists. There’s a duo of opposite personalities who are stuck together while traveling, with some inevitable bickering and a falling out or two. And, of course, there’s a villain who’s intent on defeating the protagonists.

In “Golden Arm,” Holland portrays a meek and neurotic baker named Melanie, who is in her mid-30s and who lives somewhere in Kansas. Melanie is financially struggling to keep her bakery in business. She’s the bakery’s only employee. And her personal life is also in a rut, because her marriage of five years has ended in divorce. The movie’s first scene with Melanie features her arrogant ex-husband Steve (played by Matt Newell) showing up unannounced at the bakery so that Melanie can sign the final divorce papers.

As an example of Melanie being afraid of confrontation, the movie shows that she has a regular customer named Kristen (played by Lauren Knutti), a snooty yoga instructor who orders the same thing every time: a cup of coffee, which automatically comes with a free scone. Kristen makes a point of demanding the scone, she takes one bite, and then makes sure that Melanie sees her throws the scone away in the bakery’s trash bin. Melanie displays a cheerful “the customer is always right” attitude, but inside she’s seething at Kristen’s insulting rudeness.

And speaking of rude people, Melanie’s best friend/former college roommate is the loud and obnoxious Danny (played by Betsy Sodaro), who drives a big rig truck for a living. In her free time, Danny loves to hang out in bars, arm wrestle, and pick fights with unsuspecting people. However, Danny is fiercely loyal to the friends that she has, which include a group of female arm wrestlers called The Dominators.

The opening of “Golden Arm” shows Danny in a seedy-looking bar and losing a wrestling match to someone who’s an even bigger menace than Danny is: Brenda (played by Olivia Stambouliah), also known by her arm wrestling name The Bone Crusher. Danny loses so badly that her wrist is fractured. In retaliation, Danny head butts Brenda, and they get into a big brawl.

Outside the bar, Danny gripes about Brenda to Danny’s friends Jerry (played by Ahmed Bharoocha), Rambea (played by Veronique Parker) and Momo (played by Ashley Mandanas): “She’s getting rid of all of the competition so that she can get the Grand Slam. And there’s no way in hell I’m going to let her win this tournament! We need somebody new, somebody she’s not expecting. We need a ringer.”

You know what that means. It isn’t long before Danny shows up at Melanie’s bakery and asks her to go on a big rig haul with her to make some money and have a gal pal road trip. Melanie and Danny haven’t seen each other in a while, but they still consider each other to be close friends. Later in the movie, there are a few flashbacks of Melanie and Danny during their college roommate days, when they used to smoke marijuana and arm wrestle for fun.

At first, Melanie immediately declines Danny’s offer to go on a road trip. Melanie’s excuse is that she can’t afford to take time off from work. But when Danny tells her that they will make enough money to help Melanie pay her increasing debt and bills, Melanie changes her mind and calculates that she can afford to close the bakery for about a week to go on the trip.

During their road trip in Danny’s truck, viewers find out that Melanie and Danny’s favorite song is Heart’s 1980s hit “These Dreams.” Cue the scene where they sing along to “These Dreams” in the truck. It’s not the last time the song will be heard in the movie. Danny and Melanie also stop at a bar, where a misunderstanding happens between the bar’s no-nonsense owner Randy (played by Kate Flannery) and Melanie.

To smooth things over, Danny suggests that Melanie and Randy arm wrestle each other, and the winner will get some cash. Some of the bar patrons take bets. The odds are in favor of Randy, because of her tough demeanor. But viewers shouldn’t be surprised when Melanie wins, because why else would Danny think that Melanie was a good candidate to be in an arm wrestling tournament on short notice?

This small victory boosts Melanie’s confidence. And so, Danny decides the time is right to reveal the real agenda for the trip. Danny tells Melanie about the national arm wrestling tournament in Oklahoma City that she wants Melanie to enter. Melanie reluctantly agrees to compete in the tournament because the grand prize is $15,000.

Melanie hasn’t arm wrestled in years and feels like her wrestling skills are rusty. During their road trip, Melanie reluctantly agrees to do some training with a tough-talking taskmaster named Big Sexy (played by Dot-Marie Jones), who is a friend of Danny’s. Big Sexy, who has 15 arm-wrestling world titles, is shocked to find out that Melanie is actually a powerhouse arm wrestler.

However, Melanie gets angry about Danny pressuring her to be in the tournament, and they argue about it. She tells Danny: “I’m just so sick of everyone dictating my life! I never put myself first! I don’t listen to my gut!”

Eventually, Melanie calms down and says she’ll still be in the tournament. Melanie and Danny continue on to Oklahoma City. However, Melanie keeps getting plagued by self-doubt, and there are more moments in the film where she might or might not quit the tournament. The event is being held at a place called Star Arena, which really just looks like a large dive bar.

Meanwhile, Melanie has an awkward “meet cute” moment with a potential love interest named Greg (played by Eugene Cordero), when they both end up in their underwear in the same dressing room. Greg is a Major League Baseball umpire, he’s single, and there’s an immediate attraction between him and Melanie. Their blossoming romance is sweet and a counterbalance to a lot of the crudeness in the movie.

As watchable as Holland is in “Golden Arm,” a lot of viewers might find Sodaro’s Danny character very grating and hard to take. Danny’s over-aggressiveness is best served in small doses. However, there are enough comedic moments with Danny that might give people some chuckles. One of the funniest running gags is the lusty relationship that Danny has with tournament emcee/referee Carl (played by Ron Funches), which results in some amusing slapstick comedy.

Stambouliah’s portrayal of ruthless villain Deborah is very caricature-like. Deborah, who is constantly snarling or smirking, dresses in an outer corset and other clothes that look like she watched too many episodes of “Xena: Warrior Princess.” Deborah has a sniveling sidekick named Tessie (played by Dawn Luebbe), who brings some occasional laughs to the story.

Although “Golden Arm” plays out exactly like you think it does, there’s enough originality in the story so that it isn’t a completely paint-by-numbers project. Aparna Nancherla has a small but scene-stealing role as an arm wrestler named Coco Cherie, who dresses like a mermaid cosplayer. Coco Cherie has a hilarious monologue in the movie about the differences between labia and testicles and how they can be used in metaphors for bravery.

Melanie’s experience in this wrestling tournament doesn’t go very smoothly, because “Golden Arm” is a stereotypical underdog story. She goes through three different name changes for her wrestling persona, which is also symbolic of Melanie’s search for self-confidence and her true identity during this life-changing trip. All of the production elements of “Golden Arm” are solid, although at times it looks like a made-for-TV movie. And that’s okay. Not all entertaining movies have to be Oscar-worthy, just like not all arm wrestlers can be champions.

Utopia Distribution released “Golden Arm” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 30, 2021.

Review: ‘The Swing of Things,’ starring Chord Overstreet, Olivia Culpo, Adelaide Kane and Luke Wilson

July 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Olivia Culpo and Chord Overstreet in “The Swing of Things” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Swing of Things”

Directed by Matt Shapira

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and Jamaica, the sex comedy “The Swing of Things” has a predominantly white cast (with some black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A straight-laced American bride and groom’s wedding plans are drastically altered when a plane detour causes them to have their wedding at a swingers’ resort in Jamaica.

Culture Audience: “The Swing of Things” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching badly made comedies that are a waste of time.

Luke Wilson in “The Swing of Things” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

It seems like the main motivation for “The Swing of Things” cast to make this movie was to get an expenses-paid trip to Jamaica. It certainly couldn’t have been the mind-numbing, awful screenplay of this so-called comedy. “The Swing of Things” (sloppily directed by Matt Shapira) is not only humorless but it’s also incredibly dull for a movie that tries to pretend that it’s wild and edgy because most of the story takes place at a swingers’ resort.

The most pathetic aspect of how this moronic movie got made is that five people are credited with writing “The Swing of Things” screenplay: Patrick McErlean, Christopher Hewitson, Clayton Hewitson, Justin Jonas and Scotty Mullen. It’s proof of that old cliché: “Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth.” In this case, the “broth” is the type of rotten garbage that is an apt description for this stinker of a movie, where most of the acting is so bad that you might experience some brain rot if you keep watching.

It takes a while (the first third of the movie) for “The Swing of Things” to actually get to the destination wedding trip that is supposed to be at the center of the story. The movie first introduces viewers to the future bride and groom, and then shows how they met. By the way, these two “lovebirds”—Tommy (played by Chord Overstreet) and Laura Jane McGursky (played by Olivia Culpo)—have no believable chemistry together. But even if they did, it still wouldn’t help this ridiculously horrible movie.

Tommy works for an advertising agency that’s run by an egotistical, crude sexist named Ricky (played by Aleksander Vayshelboym), who treats women as nothing more than body parts he can play with sexually. At the ad agency’s headquarters in Los Angeles, the company’s past print ad campaigns are proudly on display as posters on the walls of the conference room. One of these poster displays is of a beer ad that shows a beer bottle’s contents being poured down a nearly naked bikini bottom of a woman, to simulate a “golden shower” while another woman is posed underneath with her mouth open, as if she’s ready to swallow. That’s what passes for “humor” in this movie.

Tommy and Ricky are stressed-out because they have an important meeting with a rich client named Jon Johnson (played by Jon Lovitz, doing his usual smarmy schtick) to pitch an ad campaign for the client’s jet packs, which Jon wants to sell to the public as high-priced adventure toys. Tommy’s ad slogan for the jet packs is “Making the future fun again.” Jon (who’s surrounded by two trophy girlfriends and a small group of bodyguards) isn’t completely sold until Tommy comes up with an idea to describe the jet-pack experience that gets Jon’s enthusiastic approval: “It’s like a vibrator for your mind.”

Meanwhile, also in Los Angeles, Laura is an aspiring fashion designer who wants to make clothes for dogs. Her career isn’t going so well and she’s struggling to make money. Laura has two roommates: a down-to-earth Australian named Georgia (played by Adelaide Kane) and a self-admitted alcoholic and nymphomaniac named Molly (named Leslie Stratton), who utters lines like, “Get ready, because his dick will be like a McDonald’s milkshake machine.”

The only reason why the character of Molly seems to have been written for this movie is so she could have a threesome with two men. That’s what happens when Laura, with Georgia’s help, puts on a small doggie fashion show in their apartment for some potential customers, but the fashion show is ruined by the sounds of the threesome going at it in a nearby bedroom. After this scene, Molly isn’t seen or heard from again.

Tommy and Laura have a not-very-interesting “meet cute” scene at a food truck. The movie then fast forwards to Tommy and Laura getting engaged. The engagement party dinner includes Laura’s roommate/best friend Georgia; Laura’s free-spirited parents Mama McGursky (played by Carol Hennesy) and Papa McGursky (played by E.E. Bell); Tommy’s more traditional parents Sherry (played by Linda Purl) and Manfred (played by Matt McCoy), who’s a workaholic businessman; and Laura’s older adopted brother Lance (played by Luke Wilson), who drunkenly confesses that he’s always been jealous of Laura because she’s the biological child of their parents.

And the next thing you know, they and Tommy’s boss Ricky are all on a plane to the Bahamas, where Tommy and Laura’s wedding is supposed to take place. Of course, in a predictable sex comedy like this one, there has to be a “Mile High Club” encounter on the plane. But even that tryst (with Ricky and a woman who looks old enough to be his mother) is poorly written and brings no laughs.

By the way, Ricky likes to put on a Japanese headband before he has sex. It’s like he’s doing some kind of creepy, dumb tribute to “The Karate Kid.” Ralph Macchio would not be proud.

And wouldn’t you know, things go wrong with the trip when an announcement comes over the plane that, due to weather problems in the Bahamas, the plane has to be rerouted to Jamaica instead. When the wedding party gets to Jamaica, they all find out the wedding, which is in four days, can’t be held in the Bahamas because no one would be able to get there on time. Therefore, they decide to have the wedding in Jamaica. And the only place available is a Hedonism II resort, which is a known vacation spot for swingers.

One of the things that is immediately noticeable about the casting for “The Swing of Things” is that while there’s diversity in how the young men look, all the young women are way above-average in their looks. There isn’t one young woman in this cast who doesn’t look like some kind of model, which is very unrealistic. If “The Swing of Things” director Shapira had a casting call sheet for the young actresses he wanted to cast in the movie, he might as well have just put, “Only thin, pretty women will be get the job.” In the real world, a resort like Hedonism II has young women of various body types and looks, but don’t tell that to a director who clearly wanted mostly “hot chicks” in his movie.

The movie has the predictable close-up shots of naked breasts and showing the backsides of women in thong bikinis. But director Shapira also has a weird fixation on doing close-ups of the penises of black men in tight Speedos—and only the black men. Perhaps the director has some racist stereotypes and insecurities to work out about the sizes of black men’s genitals, compared to white men’s, but it’s pretty obvious he didn’t want any close-ups of white men’s privates parts in the way he almost fetishizes the black men’s genitals in this movie.

There’s a problematic scene where an all-black group of men who work at the resort offer to give massages to the women in the wedding party. But since this is a swingers’ resort, these “masseurs” assume that the women want more than massages, so these white women are sexually harassed and sexually fondled/assaulted by black men in the massage rooms. The women are able to fight them off and get away. It’s all played for laughs in the movie, but there’s a racist and sexist tone to this scene that’s reprehensible and not funny at all.

There’s also a character named Ira Goldstein (played by Oliver Cooper), who works as the resort’s promoter, but what he really wants to do is open a dry-cleaning business with his Jamaican wife. Ira first meets the members of the wedding party when they arrive at the airport, and he’s the one who recommends that they stay at Hedonism II. The running gag with Ira is that he’s from New York’s Long Island, but he talks in a fake Jamaican accent so that he can appear to be an “authentic” Jamaican. Can you say cultural appropriation?

And it gets even more insufferable with Ira, since he’s constantly hitting up the resort guests (including Tommy’s father Manfred) for money to invest in his non-existent business. Needless to say, the Ira character is a major pest. However, Cooper gives one of the better performances in this movie that’s filled with bad acting. Kane also shows glimmers of talent, but the movie’s screenplay and direction (including amateurish, choppy editing) are so terrible, that any talent that she might have just gets lost in the stink of it all.

Dot-Marie Jones has an awkwardly written cameo as a sex therapist named Finlay Roosevelt, who gets Tommy’s parents and Laura’s parents to “loosen up.” It’s as cringeworthy as it sounds. As for Wilson, who wears a Panama hat throughout the movie as if he’s some of kind of goofball Indiana Jones, this was clearly “just a paycheck” movie for him, since his terrible performance as Laura’s annoying and irresponsible older brother Lance is downright embarrassing.

As for the wedding couple, it should come as no surprise that having their wedding at a swingers’ resort will result in temptations and insecurities/accusations about who might be cheating. And as if this stupid movie couldn’t get any more unimaginative, there’s a cliché “race against time to the airport before it’s too late to tell this person how I feel” scene that’s a tired ripoff of many other romantic comedies that have done the same thing.

Because most of this film is set on location in a resort in Jamaica, the cast and crew of “The Swing of Things” probably had some fun making this movie. Too bad anyone unlucky enough to watch this putrid trash won’t be having any fun at all.

Lionsgate released “The Swing of Things” on Blu-ray, DVD, digital and VOD on July 14, 2020.