Synopsis: A tough lady trucker trains her girly best friend to compete in the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship.
Stars: Betsy Sodaro, Mary Holland, Olivia Stambouliah, Eugene Cordero, Aparna Nancherla, Dawn Luebbe, Ron Funches, Ahmed Bharoocha, Dot-Marie Jones, Kate Flannery
Director: Maureen Bharoocha
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: All good things come to those who wait…or are forced to wait. At least that’s what it feels like watching a winning little indie like Golden Arm make its debut a year after it was slated to premiere at the South by Southwest Film Fest (SXSW). Director Maureen Bharoocha wrote a great piece for The Hollywood Reporter detailing how the pandemic derailed her big moment that felt like the pot of gold for her and everyone involved with the production at the end of an arduous shoot. The piece was frank and honest, not so much a pity party but a “this sort of stinks” soiree that she felt like she earned the right to throw. Missing out on SXSW was a blow to a number of filmmakers, many of whom are now just seeing their films start to roll out through brokered deals that perhaps aren’t as lucrative as they could have been with the buzz that came out of the popular film fest held in Austin, TX.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Bharoocha wasn’t too worried deep down because she knew once people started to see this women’s arm-wrestling road trip movie (don’t laugh, you’ll regret it soon) they’d be spreading the good word for her. You see, Golden Arm might have needed a festival run to obtain a higher profile release which often can help salvage a mediocre film but in reality it exudes a kind of confident charm that easily helps it rise above any of its budget limitations. A scrappy film to match its scrappy cast and scrappy sport, there’s honest to goodness joy to be found here amidst the crazy costumes and some over the top archness.
It does take a second or two to orient yourself to Bharoocha’s bold world of wonder but once acclimated you’re in for a treat as we meet Danny (Betsy Sodaro, The To Do List) as she dominates in her latest raucous arm wrestling championship. A ballsy trucker that puts her arm where her mouth is, she’s sidelined from her ascent to take the top cash prize at the Oklahoma City Women’s Arm-Wrestling competition when notorious Brenda the Bonecrusher (Olivia Stambouliah) gives her wrist a good twist. Nursing her injury and a bruised ego and not wanting to see Brenda make it to the top, she pays a visit to her best friend Melanie (Mary Holland) who is the only person she can think of that could outmaneuver the best of the best.
Melanie’s arm-wrestling college days are long gone so Danny pretends she needs someone to accompany her on her route, using Melanie’s currently pending divorce and struggling bakery business as reason to encourage a break from her usual routine. They aren’t too far out of the city when Danny lets Melanie in on her true intentions, bringing her to train with legendary champion Big Sexy (Dot-Marie Jones). If Melanie can find her lost “golden arm” and recharge her self-esteem, she could be poised to join the crazy ranks at the wrestling competition where all moves to strongarm the opposition will be tried and all bets on fairness are off.
There’s some clear evidence the movie is put together (lovingly) with Scotch tape but for the most part Golden Arm is the second best shot in the arm movie fans can get lately. The cast is uniformly ready for fun and even if the occasional day player might show the more amateur nature of the production from an acting perspective, there’s a lot of mileage to be had on the charisma of Holland and Sodaro alone. Holland, fresh from stealing scenes in Hulu’s Happiest Season which she co-wrote, is the unlikeliest of heroines for an arm-wrestling film but she’ll make you a believer. If Sodaro’s role had been played by a guy it would have been totally insufferable and I’m not sure she isn’t sort of obnoxious most of the time…but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Both work well as individual characters and as a duo learning about themselves over one adventurous trip together. Completing their trio is Stambouliah as an over-the-top meanie who takes her sport seriously and convinces us of its importance as well. Stambouliah’s deadpan delivery gives great comedic fuel to the script from Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly.
The movie can’t help but throw in a love interest B-plot that feels incredibly extraneous. When you have an appealing A-storyline with performers that make the time fly, why slow things down with a secondary story that doesn’t measure up the same way? Still, at 90 minutes the movie zooms by with little fuss and you won’t have to tap out of Golden Arm before it overstays its welcome. I’m not sure if any other tinkering was done to the film over the past months but Bharoocha’s entertaining finished product should get her noticed and back to work as Hollywood moves into production mode again.