90 Minutes // USA // Fox Searchlight
dir. Jared Hess
Thursday, October 29th, 2009 – AMC Yonge and Dundas
starring: Michael Angarano & Jemaine Clement
Jared Hess: a man whose name is often associated with mediocrity and quirk. If you’ve seen either of his two previous feature (Napoleon Dynamite & Nacho Libre) you know he’s got the most peculiar style in comedy today. In fact, all three of his features have an identical visual and comical prowess to them; it is only the regression into potty humor that is cause of any wayward movement.
Gentlemen Broncos starts off innocently enough, what with Hess’ awkward charm and the introduction of Benjamin (Michael Angarano). Primarily Hess (along with wife Jerusha) strive to achieve a basic character arc with this protagonist – a teen with simple roots progressing in life, finding confidence in himself and his work after overcoming improbable odds and having a more clear grasp of life and his purpose in it. With this in mind, the writer/director Jared does exactly what he sets out to achieve – unfortunately, what he sets out to accomplish isn’t much of anything.
There is no prelude into the story about Benjamin – a rather big plus in my mind – as we witness his nuances and life story unfold as the film progresses through helpful gestures and his interactions with society. The viewer comes to understand that Benjamin doesn’t push his suffocating mother Judith (Jennifer Coolidge) away because he understands that he’s the only thing that she’s got in life. This grows into routine extremes and situations where Benjamin wears frilly and gaudy women’s clothing which allows for his mother, somewhat of a fashion designer, to get a better feel for how these designs will look and how well they’ll sell in her shop. Another significant point to recognize when watching the film is Benjamin’s emotional dependence on Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Since his father passed away, Benjamin has been deeply invested in science fiction and the name that pioneered the genre in Chevalier since he was a little boy. This is touching solely because Hess doesn’t toss in explosive scenes requiring Benjamin to rant and cry; it wouldn’t fit his character regardless. Rather, you see the nimble gestures of a depressive teen who is losing a grip on a reality he never had a firm hold of in the first place.
Benjamin’s first taste of major disappointment in the film occurs early on when he’s at writing camp in a class that Chevalier is teaching. His pompous answers and self-promoting attitude don’t fly well with the youth and you begin to see his impression of a man who he looked up to as a second father diminish. This would be quite affecting if the humor wasn’t so snappily paced.
However the script is ineptly balanced and is similar in structure to a bad sandwich made with great bread; you’ve two great sides but a terrible core. The first act is infinitely engaging – giving you (false) hope that this will be Hess’ masterpiece. Following is the second act which is poo/vomit joke city. To me, the story immediately loses its credibility when anything asinine takes place outside of Benjamin’s story. After the enduring middle, you get to a methodically built final act that ties the story together delicately – containing an array of well-intentioned and even intelligent humor.
So the theme isn’t quizzical, the intent plain and the humor flexible. What else is there that pushes this mediocre affair into passable territory? If anyone’s been depressed in their teenage years for family reasons or have just had the misfortune of being letdown on numerous occasions, you’ll find solace in seeing angst being portrayed in a more founded light. Although this does push boundaries – it appears Hess is hesitant to throw in a common moment to further each character logically as opposed to an improbable scenario to keep away from being called cliche – his style becomes exhausting in stretches because he is too timid to fall back on reliable standards for his characters. For example, you could have retitled either of his last two features “Emotionally Fractured White Person Befriends A Quirky Mexican and Falls For A Standoffish and Annoying Woman”… the same applies for Gentlemen Broncos. Though, for the first time, Hess doesn’t make his secondary Mexican character completely innocent and overly demure with Lonnie (Hector Jimenez) whose boasts his ego more than he awkward moves his lips when speaking.
In addition, the antagonist (Chevalier, of course) is built with so much hatred and asphyxiated in a murky air that there is no way you can humanize him and his actions. This is both seamless writing by the Hess’ and annoyingly simplistic for such an important character. Either way, I found it refreshing that the bad guy was completely bad; though this can also be attributed to Clement’s ability to crawl under the skin of Chevalier so well, what with his Alan Rickman inspired voice. And while I’m touting specific performances, I’d like to point out Sam Rockwell who – after several years of extremely dry material – finally seems to be having fun in a role. The different interpretations of the story (divulged into below) make for a very enjoyable role and one that Rockwell certainly lavished portraying.
In fact, the only differing between his other features and this I can spot is the clear spoofing of science fiction contained in the short-lived telling of each individual interpretation of Benjamin’s “Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years”. Initially, Benjamin’s view of the story is pure, if unintelligible and awkward; showing camp lives on strong, even if he is passionate. Then comes Chevalier’s take on the story – also viewed as campy, but far more off-putting and imbecile – that will undoubtedly be mislabeled “homophobic” by many. Same applies with Lonnie’s take on the feature as he tries to direct it on a minimal budget. Both Chevalier’s and Lonnie’s visual association with the material express how honest integrity (even if malnourished and uneven) can find itself in an even more asinine state when tinkered with by the greedy. Hess takes on a weird aura in these scenes that are quite funny that express exactly these points to any diligent viewer.
At the end of the day (as applies with most other films) it all comes down to whether or not you connect with the main character and his struggles. One thing’s for certain though: If you don’t like either of Hess’ previous features and the humor found within them steer clear of this one. As for me, Gentlemen Broncos – while disproportionately structured – is a reflective and momentously hilarious tale that is as sincere as it is peculiarly performed by Angarano and co. [6/10]