If I were to describe an independent film starring an actor known for his comedic roles who encounters and engages in a flirtatious friendship with a much younger woman while on a job in a foreign country, it would be easy to mistake my description for the 2003 hit, Lost in Translation. This just goes to prove that independent films, for all of their claims of creative originality, can also be guilty of formulaic plotting and derivative content, because the exact same description works for 2019’s Olympic Dreams. While it is a likable enough film, the only original element of this newer independent dramedy about two lonely souls meeting in an unfamiliar city is the setting. And while being the first film to be shot inside of the actual Olympic Village is a certain claim of originality, the filmmakers seem far more preoccupied with this element of the storytelling than the character development or dialogue.
We are first introduced to Penelope (Alexi Pappas), a cross-country skier competing at the Olympic Games for the first time. Ezra (Nick Kroll) is a volunteer dentist excited to be involved and eager to talk with anyone he meets, though Penelope is less than interested when he introduces himself the morning before her event. But after she finishes competing, Penelope is quickly left with the uncertainty of her next move. Without the support of a coach or family member with her, she turns to the friendly dentist that tried to befriend her.
The relationship is not completely platonic, though this film would be wrongly classified as a romance. Though there is certainly an attraction between the two characters, Ezra is wise enough to realize that their impact on each other’s lives is far more meaningful than a physical fling. This is about the way that people we encounter, even briefly, can greatly impact the trajectories of our lives. It is a beautiful theme, but hardly an original one. From Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise series to Barry Jenkins’ directorial debut, Medicine for Melancholy, not to mention the aforementioned Lost in Translation, this has long been a staple in independent filmmaking story tropes. Enjoyment of Olympic Dreams comes down to an audience member’s enjoyment of these kinds of films and acceptance of the unoriginality, which may be helped by the cast and/or the setting.
Part of the appeal in the film is being able to see the various backstage elements of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The Olympic Village is highly utilized within the filming and screenplay itself, so much that director Jeremy Teicher often seems as distracted from the plot as the audience is. It is this weird environment, where the participants in the film are also often actual participants in the Olympics (there is even a supporting speaking role for real-world athlete Gus Kenworthy). Unfortunately, this gets old after a while. The most interesting aspect of the film is this indescribable relationship that Ezra and Penelope have, and that often gets put on the backburner so that the director can show us the rows of massage chairs made available to athletes.
The DVD for Olympic Dreams is pretty bare. This is especially disappointing considering the more interesting aspect of the film was the production itself. It would have been nice to see how they filmed during the Olympics, and, what obstacles they faced, but there are no making-of featurettes to be found.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 0/10