When the going gets weird, the weird get a beard
Like Napoleon Dynamite before it, Gentlemen Broncos revels in weirdness for weirdness’ sake. But unlike its spiritual predecessor (both films are from the hand of writer/director Jared Hess), it has a hero who is, shockingly, likeable and relatable.
These two films frame their cast in the most unflattering possible way and derive comedy from it. Ditzy mothers, grossly mugging friends, crude guardian angels. In Napoleon Dynamite the lead was just as strange – if not stranger – than the rest: a dumb-witted, eccentric kid living in his own myopic world. In contrast, Gentlemen Broncos’ main character is just about the only normal person around. Benjamin Purvis, played by Michael Angarano, comes from poor trappings and plans to be a writer. To accomplish this he has written a truly horrendous story about ‘Yeast Lords’. The audience understands this to be a parody of the gauche science fiction drivel trickling through the cracks of publishing houses, but in the film universe it is stellar material.
Benjamin goes to a writing camp where he meets star sci-fi author Chevalier, played by the innately hilarious Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame. Chevalier is out of inspiration and desperate for a new hit. He steals Yeast Lords. It becomes a runaway triumph. All Benjamin can do is sit around and watch in awkward adolescence as life passes him by, one bizarre happenstance after the other.
Gentleman Broncos is the sort of movie, without passing judgment either way good or bad, that you have to ‘get’. If you don’t, it’s an incomprehensible, worthless thing. If you do, it might be superb. I found this film to be a lot more agreeable than Napoleon Dynamite before it, though most critics seem to disagree. Perhaps it’s the tale of a struggling young author that I can more relate to than a southern schlemiel. Benjamin’s journey is typical teenage drama fare of finding your voice and the power to fight for yourself, but the simple story gives the film a spine you can easily latch onto. See it as a cookie crumb trail to lead you through the forest of the grotesque.
Notable is the movie-within-a-movie framework. In the fantasy of various people we see Yeast Lords come to life in all its cycloptic terror. Both Benjamin and Chevalier have their own interpretation, the first prestigious and cool, the second campy to an extreme. Then there’s an amateur theater version and finally a cinematic adaptation rife with special effects. It’s all good fun, though it doesn’t cash in on the opportunity to link up with the core narrative in any profound way.
Gentlemen Broncos isn’t particularly brilliant. It’s notable for its dedication to being weird and clearly made with lots of enthusiasm and creativity. Where it fails, however, is at delivering something smart underneath the thick layer of deliberate dumbness. The plot doesn’t bring enough interesting events to hold attention. One thing it has though: weirdness, in spades.