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Talking with director Maureen Bharoocha and her 'Golden Arm'

May 4, 2021
2 min read time

Maureen Bharoocha's Golden Arm is a laugh-out-loud comedy that centers on female friendship and arm wrestling (yes, arm wrestling).

The story is driven by Danny (Betsy Sodaro), a truck driver and ol' pro in the competitive arm-wrestling circuit, and her best friend Melanie (Mary Holland), a demure and down-on-her-luck baker with a failing bakery. After Danny injures her wrist in a bout with notorious cheater/champ Brenda the Bonecrusher (Olivia Stambouliah), she persuades her best friend Melanie to train to defeat the Bonecrusher and win a $15,000 cash purse in the Oklahoma City Women's Arm Wrestling competition, under the guise of taking a week off her work at the bakery to help Danny finish her route deliveries.

"It's hard to avoid tropes in comedy. Avoiding tropes takes finesse," says Bharoocha on the hilarious buddy comedy. "You need to find the surprise — the unexpected thing. whether it's punching up a joke on the fly or pivoting in a moment to make a location more authentic. You need to allow the comedic moments to stand out and I think that's how I avoid the pitfalls of comedy tropes."

"[Writers] Ann Marie [Allison] and Jenna [Milly] originally brought me the idea years ago and asked me to shoot a sizzle about the underground female arm wrestling circuit," she says. "Golden Arm has been a long journey I jumped on five years ago. A year later, we did a live reading with producers. Then, I went on to work at [Jimmy] Kimmel while [the writers] focused on obtaining financing. We were able to shoot it in 2019, and got in to SXSW which was then canceled. And here we are."

The uniqueness of the story is what pulled Maureen in, as she remarks: "You look at the canon of sports comedies — you can count on one hand ones with a unique world, where friends find each other...and then to top it off, this script really lifts women up and focuses on female empowerment, but does it so subtly. It's a great script with incredible talent attached to it. As a director, you’re obviously heavily involved in casting, but these actors were truly the embodiment of the characters they played. I've worked with each of the leads before, they're amazing comedians."
 
Golden Arm's script to screen journey was never a solo effort. Bharoocha says, "Jenna and Ann Marie originally wrote the script; then they did rewrites based on notes, and then I did a rewrite on my own. The story has gone through a few drafts, but it's always been collaborative. They took my notes on how I envisioned it could be, and then we did a pass with the actors, somewhat on the fly. When you work with actors the script usually just evolves."

"You know, when writers have a vision, it's very apparent in the script, but Golden Arm did change a bit tonally, more to my style of comedy. We were trying to avoid broad and unrealistic characters, and grounding it in reality was very important."

Bharoocha comes from a long history of directing short films, which perhaps lends itself to the kernelled comedic structure of Golden Arm. Each scene is so memorable in itself, yet are tethered together by a well-developed overall story. Bharoocha says, "I love directing shorts — it’s how I find my tribe. I've done a short with everyone on this movie. And like a short, each moment of this film is really its own short film. As a director, it's your job to break down this fully developed script — a full story — into smaller chunks."

Bharoocha adds, "I was lucky because Golden Arm started with strong writers who developed this beautiful comedy with a strong spine. The rest just filled itself in."
 
Golden Arm is now in theaters and on Digital.
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