From Chariots of Fire to Miracle to Cool Runnings, the Olympics have long provided fodder for stirring stories of personal triumph and national pride. What they haven’t done as often (if at all) is serve as the backdrop for a quiet love story that hardly mentions athletics.
In a scant 83 minutes, Olympic Dreams does just that, giving a behind-the-curtain look at the Athlete’s Village during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games and using it as the setting for a charming and sweet tale of two people who take a very unique meet-cute and run with it.
Starring comedian Nick Kroll and athlete/actor Alexi Pappas (a 2016 distance runner in Rio), Olympic Dreams is known mainly for its production—writer-director Jeremy Teicher (Pappas’ real-life husband) was granted near-carte blanche access to the 2018 Games through the International Olympic Committee’s artists-in-residence program. Teicher served as director, cameraman, and sound guy for the film, which he co-wrote with Kroll and Pappas (though much was improvised on the spot). The result is a fictional film with an almost documentary feel, and it works in spades.
Kroll is Ezra, a 37-year-old New Jersey dentist volunteering at the Games while “on a break” from his fiancée. At breakfast in the main dining hall, he plops down across from Penelope (Pappas), a 22-year-old cross-country skier competing for Greece. He’s awkward, she’s focused on race prep, and they go their separate ways. But they linger in their in each other’s minds, especially since they’re both suffering from almost crippling cases of Stranger-in-a-Strange-Land-itis; they both leave heartbreaking voicemails early on—Ezra to his ex, and she to her coach, both of whom are noticeably absent.
As rom-com couples often do, Ezra and Penelope keep bumping into each other, and, since they don’t know a soul in South Korea, they glom onto each other and at the same time take us on a cinematic tour of the Games, including the the requisite night on the town in downtown Pyeongchang. Their individual uncomfortableness, naturally, just makes each more endearing, not only to the other but to the audience, and though the film’s runtime makes fully-developed characters almost impossible, Pappas and Kroll both do stellar work in making Penelope and Ezra come alive and therefore making them worthy of our interest.
Though often feeling very much like the quirky, independent, low-budget film it is (right down to its horrifically cheese-ball title), Olympic Dreams nevertheless succeeds on nearly every front as a supremely wistful moment-in-time romance. Along with the nifty all-access look it provides to the Games (we see actual ice dance, skeleton, and skiing, along with a first-person look at the opening ceremonies), it gives us the brief story of two people who, despite sharing nothing but a sense of depressing solitude, find comfort in each other.
It may not be a gold medal winner or as memorable as the Miracle on Ice, but Olympic Dreams is a fun little diversion certainly worth 83 minutes of your time. Consider it the biathlon or curling of the cinematic rom-com world.