Golden Arm is a surprising example of cliché done right, bringing a female perspective to a silly topic without making gender the punchline.
New high-concept comedy Golden Arm is, put simply, the female version of Over the Top. That the film is purposely comical seems almost redundant, as the 1986 Sylvester Stallone cheese-fest is quite possibly one of the funniest films ever made, intentional or not. Indeed, that particular ‘80s high might be impossible to reach, but what Golden Arm does have going for it is a healthy dose of heart, courtesy of leads Mary Holland and Betsy Sodaro, and a shot of female empowerment running through its veins that thankfully feels like more than just empty posturing. Holland and Sodaro play Melanie and Danny respectively, two former best friends who hit the road to Oklahoma City for the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship. Danny is a truck driver and ace arm wrestler who, following a wrist injury, recruits the recently divorced Melanie to compete in her place to take down the low-down and dirty Bone Crusher (Olivia Stambouliah). Melanie is the type of naturally meek woman, entirely lacking in courage and self-esteem, but who here finds herself in the extreme sport; Danny, meanwhile, is loud and abrasive, but has a kind soul, because of course she does.
Golden Arm traffics in all of the expected clichés for a film like this, but with a knowing wink and a welcome female perspective, courtesy of director Maureen Bharoocha and writers Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly. The gender of the participants is never once used as a punchline or even a joke, but is handled matter-of-factly — these are ass-kicking women who don’t need a man to prove their strength or worth. In fact, the only men who even pop up are rendered subservient to the women, treated as lackeys or eye candy, including Melanie’s eventual love interest, Greg (Eugene Cordero). Melanie and Danny are a classic odd pair, with Holland imbuing a surprising amount of warmth to a stock character, while Sodaro channels Anne Ramsay in both look and vocal inflections with a performance that will undoubtedly annoy as many as it tickles. It’s perhaps easiest to understand the film’s shape as the type of big, throwaway Hollywood production that in another world would star Melissa McCarthy and Rose Bryne, but there’s something about the film’s modest goals and charms that makes it more inviting than that; it’s what something like Thunder Force could be if it grew up. Bonus points to Bharoocha for staging a visual reference to The Natural late in the movie that works nicely in its own right, but also functions as a slick callback to an earlier gag, and double that bonus for any film that references Unfaithful’s sex scenes for a good joke or two. Ultimately, Golden Arm is both over the top and not Over the Top, a surprising delight that firmly stands on its own even as it takes inspiration from an all-timer.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | April 2021.