Who’s In It: Michael Angarano, Jemaine Clement, Jennifer Coolidge, Sam Rockwell, Mike White
The Basics: Home-schooled teenager Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano), who dreams of being a successful science fiction writer, gets a reality check when his idol, Ronald Chevalier (Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) steals his manuscript at writing camp and publishes it as his own. But before he can confront the plagiarizing author, Benjamin must first help his single mother (Jennifer Coolidge) with her fledgling designer nightgown business, befriend an irresponsible Big Brother (Mike White), and contend with a pair of slimy teenage filmmakers who want to turn his story, Yeast Lords – The Bronco Years, into a low-budget action masterpiece.
What’s The Deal: All of Gentlemen Broncos’ funniest moments are in the trailer, so just watch that and save yourself the agonizing discomfort of sitting through this collage of quirk and wondering for two hours if it’s ever going to get good. Filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess are the folks that brought us Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, so a minimum of indie movie idiosyncrasies and weird characters is to be expected. But the bigger-budgeted Gentlemen Broncos ups the kitsch, throws it all into a blender, and barfs it onto the screen to create a world in which peculiarity is not the exception, but the rule.
What Works: Jemaine Clement is delightful as the posturing, creatively bankrupt Chevalier. Clad in Native American jewelry and stonewashed jeans, a Bluetooth dangling from his ear, he is overblown egoism personified, a sort of ‘80s-era Steven Seagal for the fantasy fiction set. It’s a character that works only thanks to Clement, whose deadpan delivery combined with a palpable sense of desperation boiling beneath the surface make even the most ridiculous scenes work, like when Chevalier teaches a class of young aspiring writers how to jazz up boring character names by adding suffixes like “onius,” or “ainous.” The phrase “mammary cannons,” accompanied by Chevalier’s numerous paintings on the subject, deserves a place in the pop culture lexicon.
What Doesn’t: Everything else. The film’s pacing is off, so much so that the big betrayal we know is coming doesn’t happen until very late in the game. So what is Benjamin doing in the hour-plus leading up to his confrontation with Chevalier? Learning how to blow darts with his Guardian Angel, Dusty; getting coerced into starring in schoolmates Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) and Lonnie’s (Hector Jimenez) terrible home movies; and shilling tacky ladies’ lingerie for his mother, a caricature of gauche Middle American obliviousness. Benjamin’s mundane adventures flesh out this curio of oddball characters, but do little to move along anything resembling a story.
Oh, Yeah – Sam Rockwell Is In It: I haven’t even mentioned the entire third subplot in which Sam Rockwell acts out Benjamin’s short story, Yeast Lords. As written by Benjamin, the hero Bronco (Rockwell) is a rough-and-tumble man’s man who carries his surgically removed gonads around in a jar, has a pet bobcat, and rides laser-equipped flying deer – that is, when he’s not projectile vomiting himself into the air and going after “yeast” factories in a vague nod to Dune. Bastardized by Chevalier’s pen, Bronco becomes Brutus, a fey platinum blond with a lisp. Sam Rockwell deserves better.
There’s A Message, If You Can Find It: Even in Lonnie’s awful film adaptation, Yeast Lords is ruined yet again. Meanwhile, Benjamin’s mom lands an offer to launch her own fashion line (of clearly horrible designs) at the expense of her morals. Somewhere in there is a comment on the dangers of giving up creative authority and ownership in exchange for commercial success, but I’m not quite sure where to find it. Gentlemen Broncos seems to be its own cautionary tale: bigger is not always better. Are you listening, Jared Hess?