If you blended a smoothie made of Cobra Kai and GLOW and chugged it while a mulletted trainer named Big Sexy threw random objects at you, you’d have Golden Arm. It’s basically every underdog sports cliché standing on top of one another, wearing a trench coat and saying in a fake-deep voice “Yes, I am an original movie film please?” It’s also, somehow, a goddamned delight.
Deceptively nimble and surprisingly sincere, writers Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly and director Maureen Bharoocha have composed an unapologetic bit of feel-good flotsam. Like baptizing The Odd Couple in a comedic fountain of youth, Mary Holland and Betsy Sodaro make a hackneyed pairing feel new again. Honestly, if the whole thing had been them “remember the time”-ing their way through a cross-country drive, thumbs would still be up like Roger Ebert-brand Viagra.
Golden Arm follows Danny (Sodaro) and Melanie (Holland), as the former cons the latter into competing in the women’s national arm-wrestling championship. Danny wants revenge on the evil Brenda (Olivia Stambouliah), and Melanie wants to feel alive again after coping with a divorce and running a struggling bakery. With the help of Big Sexy (Dot-Marie Jones), Melanie finds herself a real contender in a tournament that is part Over the Top and part WWE Smackdown, complete with costumes and goofy announcer (Ron Funches). Will Danny get justice? Will Melanie find herself…and love? Will anyone finally make a movie about real-life slapping contests? At least two of those questions get answered.
Like playing the boardgame Operation when drinking heavily, making a movie like Golden Arm relies on a huge amount of natural dexterity. Bharoocha hugs her cast with a light squeeze. The scenes never feel like the kind of nonsensical, chuckle-happy improv in which the performers are having more fun than the audience. Yet things are kept loose enough to feel genuinely organic and oddly resonant.
Without overselling itself, the film’s lasting moments aren’t some forced bullshit epiphanies about the meaning of life. The best parts are the countless, joy-filled little beats that simply come from talented, hilarious women being given the space to enjoy being in rooms filled with nothing but talented, hilarious women. To be clear, this isn’t an explicit “message movie” engaged in choir-preaching about empowerment. It just is empowering by virtue of being a refreshing retread of rote redemption.
Holland has long been stealing scenes in supporting roles but proves she wouldn’t have to resort to thievery if more films would just give her the spotlight that’s rightfully hers. Sodaro’s simultaneously gravel-toned and helium-powered voice is a nonstop fountain of hilarity. A film is only allowed to be wholly unsurprising in narrative only if performers are this unpredictably pleasant. Really, that’s the take-home message here: Golden Arm is a wildly nice little time. That may not seem like much, but spending 90-or-so minutes gettin’ giggly with these goofy gals right now is far more invigorating than you may imagine.
Grade = A-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Adesola Thomas at Paste says, “Golden Arm is a winner. It is a comedy that’s simple premise is elevated by its standout performances, the delivery of the talented cast and its savvy blend of genres. The film’s unabashed exploration of women and their badassery sheds light upon a rarely explored sector of the sports world and demonstrates how vital female friendships are to the personal maturation of women in transit.”
Danielle Solzman of Solzy at the Movies says, “Golden Arm isn’t the typical female-led film and in fact, this film allows women to truly kick some ass.”
Catherine Springer at Awards Watch says, “But it is Sodaro, who comes off as a cross between Jack Black, Melissa McCarthy and Yosemite Sam, that is truly Golden Arm’s secret weapon.”