It’s the details in “Olympic Dreams” — a movie shot within the usually restricted confines of the Olympic Village at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea — and the discovery of athlete-turned-actress Alexi Pappas that make this small story so charming.
Pappas plays Penelope, a cross-country skier from an unnamed country whose event comes early in the Pyeongchang Games. She’s reasonably happy with her performance, but now she’s alone in a strange country pondering what to do now that she’s done the biggest thing an athlete in her sport can do. She spends time in the game room, tries out the massage chairs, and is just hanging out.
In the dining hall, she runs into Ezra, played by Nick Kroll. Ezra is not an athlete; he’s a dentist from New Jersey who volunteered to join the village’s medical team. He provides checkups to athletes, hands out dental floss, and is taking it all in — this being the most adventuresome thing he’s ever done, at the cost of his relationship with his homebody fiancée.
Penelope and Ezra hit it off, and the easygoing chemistry and improvised dialogue between Pappas and Kroll make the connection feel real. But there are bumps — call them moguls — when Penelope’s impetuous nature runs up against Ezra’s cautious side.
Director Jeremy Teicher, who’s married to Pappas in real life, wears many hats in this production, approved by the International Olympic Committee through a new artist-in-residency program. Teicher was a one-man crew, acting as cinematographer and sound recordist — and he co-wrote the semi-improvised script with Pappas and Kroll.
Pappas — herself an Olympian, having run the 10,000 meters at Rio de Janeiro for Greece — also acted as on-site casting director, pulling athletes aside and cajoling them to appear as themselves in the film. This really pays off in scenes Pappas shares with two part-time Park City residents: mogul skier Morgan Schild, who plays Penelope’s roommate, and Gus Kenworthy, the now-former U.S. Ski Team star, who provides Penelope just what she needs at a dorm-room party.
Pappas lights up “Olympic Dreams,” and has the star wattage to have a long movie career once she hangs up her running shoes. She gives Penelope both the ferocity an Olympian needs to succeed and the vulnerability of someone opening her heart to someone new.
An athlete meets a dentist in this tender romance, filmed on location at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City).
When • Opens Friday, Feb. 21.
Rated • PG-13 for some language and sexual references.
Running time • 83 minutes.