Directed by: Maureen Bharoocha. Starring: Mary Holland, Betsy Sodaro, Olivia Stambouliah. Runtime: 1h 31 min. Golden Arm is currently playing as part of the Reel Love Film Fest and had its first screening on Feb. 13, 2021.
Danny the Dominator (Betsy Sodaro) is at the top of her game of ladies arm wrestling. As she prepares to compete in the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship, she faces off against her archenemy, Brenda the Bone Crusher (Olivia Stambouliah), and Brenda, well, breaks Danny’s wrist.
Needing a ringer to compete for her in the championship, Danny convinces her college best friend Melanie (Mary Holland), a passive baker, to drive cross country with her to the competition and hopes to convince her to arm wrestle and help her find her titular Golden Arm, described as a woman who is meek and “soft like a jellyfish, but she’s got one powerful arm.”
Maureen Bharoocha’s Golden Arm mashes two of my favourite sub-genres – buddy comedy and sports movie; and here, it’s even better as a sport we haven’t seen much of on-screen before (besides Sylvester Stallone in Over the Top) in arm wrestling. It’s also a great underdog story that brings in some elements of a road trip movie for the first act of the film.
For underdog story comps for this film, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and Happy Gilmore come to mind. I bring those films up, as well, just to compare the film’s villains with Dodgeball and Happy – White Goodman (Ben Stiller) and Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald) respectively.
They are both over-the-top and easily memorable and are villains you love to hate because they’re actually funny. Olivia Stambouliah totally brings the intimidation as the character and brings it her all but Brenda the Bone Crusher is the weakest written part of the film. The character just isn’t specifically funny and instead of being a love-to-hate-her villain, you just hate her.
The idea of a Bone Crusher arm wrestler is amusing and something you’re not supposed to take seriously, but it’s obvious this competition has rules throughout the tournament and it’s hard for me to believe that someone called Bone Crusher isn’t penalized when she breaks bones. It’s kind-of the same as enforcers in hockey, but wouldn’t you watch out for her hurting opponents a bit more than everyone else? That’s her intimidation factor for sure, but still… I digress, as that’s my main complaint with Golden Arm.
The writing, from a screenplay by Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly, is frequently funny and in terms of the sports scenes in the film, knows when to bring the tension and also when to just have Melanie on auto pilot as she beats the competition in the preliminary rounds. The training montages here in the first half of the film are awesome, especially because of Dot-Marie Jones as an arm-wrestling coach called Big Sexy. On one hand, as well, Big Sexy would be a great choice to be the big bad of the film, but Dot-Marie Jones is so likable that it’s only fitting that she’s on the good team. The only disappointing part is watching her chapter closed so early after helping Melanie and Danny and them just simply moving on.
The comedy is a steady stream of jokes, a lot of which are supplied by Betsy Sedaro’s Danny. She is delightfully herself and just keeps the laughs coming. Mary Holland’s Melanie is the straight woman in comedy for some of the film but is also hilarious with her awkward brand of humour (which she showcased in a film-stealing role in Happiest Season). She gets the chance to co-lead here and is so, so likable as Melanie.
There’s a romantic subplot for Melanie, too, that is so sweet. It’s with one of the competition’s referees Greg (Eugene Cordero) who meet in an awkward situation. This is where Mary Holland showcases a lot of her charm, especially in a lovely scene on a baseball field where Bharoocha brings some of her best direction. Danny, too, has a fling with the MC of the event with a character called Carl (an always amusing Ron Funches).
The reason this buddy movie works so well is because Holland and Sedaro are a great pair whose comedic stylings balance each other out phenomenally. Sedaro is in your face rattling off joke after joke, and Holland makes fewer jokes but they really hit. I was always entertained and smiling throughout, regardless.
Danny herself doesn’t grow substantially as a character since she’s so secure with herself as she just let’s Melanie grow. We just watch Melanie find her confidence – especially when she changes her stage persona name to The Breadwinner – and follow her gut and take control of her life through this crazy competition. The buddy comedy is truly the heart of Golden Arm and that’s what makes it so fun.