There’s nothing quite like an underdog sports movie. From Rudy to The Mighty Ducks to The Karate Kid, pop culture is littered with films about unlikely athletes rising in the ranks to take home the championship. Unfortunately for us, most of those films don’t involve women athletes. In fact, women’s sports films are so few and far between that you could probably list them on a single hand: Bend It Like Beckham, Whip It, A League of Their Own, and a handful of others. I would also add Netflix’s dearly departed GLOW to the list of women’s sports content.
Thankfully, we can now add another classic to that list. Golden Arm, directed by Maureen Bharoocha (in her feature debut) follows small town Kansas baker Melanie (Mary Holland, channeling young Kristen Wiig energy) who is reeling from a divorce and struggling to keep her business afloat.
Melanie is recruited by her best friend, truck driver Danny (Disjointed‘s Betsy Sodaro), to enter the Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship, taking Danny’s place after she breaks her wrist in match. Melanie is apprehensive at first, but changes her tune when she realizes how much prize money is at stake. Melanie has the “golden arm”, aka the talent, but she needs the training and confidence to back up her skills. Enter legendary coach Big Sexy (played by 15-time world arm wrestling champion and Glee actor Dot-Marie Jones), who trains Melanie and helps her rediscover her fighting spirit.
From there, Golden Arm hits all the familiar beats of the genre: training montages, self-doubt, brutal losses, and a shot at the championship. It’s a time-worn formula that is given new life thanks to the brilliant comedic chemistry between Holland and Sodaro. The duo are friends in real life, having performed improv the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Los Angeles for years.
The film is filled with hilarious riffs and moments between the two, which ground the film in an authentic and warm female friendship. Golden Arm is really a platonic love story between Melanie and Danny, who stick together despite all the obstacles in their path. Melanie also gets a sweet nerdy love interest in the form of Eugene Cordero (Star Trek: Lower Decks). Several more comedy mainstays make cameo appearances, including Ron Funches (Harley Quinn), Kate Flannery (The Office), and Aparna Nancherla (Corporate).
There’s a lot to love in this witty, vulgar comedy. Sodaro, a comedy mainstay often relegated to supporting roles, finally gets a showcase worthy of her prodigious talents. Her combustible energy delivers huge laughs as well as more emotional moments. And much like Whip It, the film is a paean to a niche sport most folks aren’t familiar with. With the costumes and the stage names, ladies arm wrestling shares some DNA with roller derby.
While Golden Arm doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it offers strong performances, great jokes, and unadulterated joy in a story of friendship and empowerment. I mean, what more could you want from a movie?
Golden Arm is currently playing in select theaters and SVOD.
(image: Utopia Distribution)
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