Jeremy Teicher’s Olympic Dreams (a pathologically unimaginative title) is the kind of American independent film that captures your attention at its moment and then quickly fades out of your memory after its end credits scroll. To speak broadly, Teicher attempts to create the illusion of realism through his use of handheld camera work, capturing the banal in some concentrated, motivated measure to create poetry. The result is insincere, in what’s an effort toward authenticity.
Yet somehow, Olympic Dreams does have some notable passages. The film centers on the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Penelope (Alexi Pappas) is a cross-country skier, a young Greek woman that fails to place during her games and, as such, is left to wander the Olympic confines at her leisure. The event retains an in-house medical team including a dentist named Ezra (Nick Kroll). The two strike an immediate friendship before it turns into something more complicated. I admire what Pappas does throughout the film; it’s a performance steeped in loneliness and self-doubt. She’s a significant discovery, capable of maintaining a façade of confidence even as she’s internally crumbling. A scene where Penelope pleads with another Olympian to be kissed is notable in its raw frankness.
But the film’s reliance on familiar romantic tropes, mismatched pairings (Kroll and Pappas, despite the latter’s efforts, simply do not have chemistry), and Teicher’s largely neutral direction leaves Olympic Dreams to stew in its own tepid pleasantness. That is to say it never takes it up to another level, which is unfortunate considering there’s something in Alexi Pappas’ performance that yearns for something more confrontational.