Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All The Humor Napoleon Dynamite Was Supposed To Have (And More!): Gentlemen Broncos Satisfies!

The Good: Acting, Humor, Character, DVD bonus features
The Bad: Awkward pacing gets tiresome at moments
The Basics: With a brilliant premise, humor, and heart, Gentlemen Broncos is an independent film that it is very easy to fall in love with!

As one who has a fondness for good independent films, I’ve been feeling a bit burned on quirky, awkward, independent comedies since Napoleon Dynamite (reviewed here!). I recall being disappointed almost immediately in that film by how disinterested and mean the protagonist was and the film never recovered from that for me (despite Tina Majorino’s presence in it). So, after years of seeing previews for Gentlemen Broncos, I had resisted actually watching the film because co-writer and director Jared Hess was also the co-writer and director of Napoleon Dynamite. But, the concept of Gentlemen Broncos appealed to me and figuring I have limited time before I am reunited with my wife and cannot waste time on films that are likely to be bad, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and watch Gentlemen Broncos.

And I am glad I did!

Gentlemen Broncos is a pleasant surprise of an independent comedy that effectively lampoons both consumer culture and the art world. For the first time in quite some time, I eagerly watched all of the bonus features including the film a second time with the (occasionally lame) commentary track on. In fact, the bonus features, especially seeing Jennifer Coolidge’s ad libs were enough for me to knock the film up to a 7 (the film alone is probably a 6.5/10).

Despite some painfully awkward moments and the reliance upon poop and vomit jokes, Gentlemen Broncos manages to be mostly endearing, enduring, and clever. The acting is wonderful, especially for so many of the cast members being so young, and the characters are interesting at the very least. And for a movie that bounces between three very different settings, Gentlemen Broncos is never confusing.

Benjamin is a high school student living in Utah, home schooled by his mother, who has dreams of becoming a famous science fiction writer. He makes a trip to CletusFest, an annual literary convention for young science fiction and fantasy writers, with a bus full of young people like the self-centered Tabatha and the creepy-weird Lonnie. Benjamin lets Tabatha read his story, but she does not provide him with any feedback before he has the chance to meet his novelist hero, Ronald Chevalier. The cover-obsessed Chevalier is struggling with getting his next book published and when he encounters Benjamin’s novella “The Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years,” he steals it as his own, rewriting the story in his own language.

Following CletusFest and his failure to win the grand prize (which included getting a book published in limited release), Benjamin returns home to his doting mother who noticed that Benjamin does not truly have any friends. Determined to change that, she has Dusty from the youth outreach at church come over to befriend him. As Tabatha and Lonnie make a terrible low-budget adaptation of “Yeast Lords,” Chevalier gets his version published and when Benjamin learns of that, he strikes out to stop him.

As Benjamin goes through his mundane life, Gentlemen Broncos presents his mental image of the “Yeast Lords” story as well as the campy film version that Lonnie, Tabatha, and Dusty are making. Mixed in with those cutaways are Chevalier’s amped up and disturbingly-wardrobed mental images of what his own version of the story is. The film bounces between reality and the various incarnations of “Yeast Lords” and the result is effective, funny, and frequently delightfully campy (one of the best notes in the commentary track involves the co-writer and wife of the director asking him why he bothered to digitally remove the ropes for one of the leaping stunts and she was absolutely right; the film is so campy in that moment that it could not have been more campy by leaving the wires in!).

What I liked most about Gentlemen Broncos was that this was a movie that was going somewhere. Unlike far too many artsy films that drag until they simply stop, Gentlemen Broncos sets up a conflict and actually resolves it. The film is leading somewhere and that makes it more than an academic exercise in strange.

Also laudable is the film’s deeper message on the destructive nature of capitalism in art. Benjamin may not be an especially talented young artist and Chevalier may be long past his prime, but their motivations could not be farther from one another. Chevalier is in the industry for the money, whereas Benjamin just wants to tell stories. For sure, the ultimate resolution to the conflict between Benjamin and Chevalier takes a decidedly ironic capitalist twist, but even there, Benjamin remains focused on (his and his mother’s) art.

On the acting front, Gentlemen Broncos is a tough nut to crack. One hopes that all of the quirky, awkward actors are doing so because that is just how their characters are supposed to be. Both Mike White and Hector Jimenez fill a niche that is awkward and disturbing, but they add something to the film, even if their performances are weird and uncomfortable to watch.

Jemaine Clement is hilarious as Chevalier. He has a dry delivery, but is so authoritative in the role of the arrogant has-been writer that he dominates every scene he is in. He manages to emote perfectly with only his eyes, especially in one of the final scenes in Gentlemen Broncos. Michael Angarano is stiff and awkward as Benjamin and I know that he is a good actor because this is nothing like his slick, charismatic character from The Art Of Getting By (reviewed here!) which I watched just last week. The two play off one another very well.

Halley Feiffer is fine as Tabatha and she had a fearless quality to her performance that is the perfect embodiment of youth. Jennifer Coolidge steals her scenes much the way Clement dominates his. Coolidge is, and this may be a phrase that is overused but in her case it certainly applies, comic genius and in Gentlemen Broncos she gives a performance that illustrates that.

On DVD, Gentlemen Broncos has trailers, a featurette on the filming of the special effects sequences, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and a commentary track. The commentary track is little more than shout-outs to all of the people who appear in the background of the film in various roles, but it is not a complete waste of time (the co-writer has some substantive thoughts more than the two guys involved). Seeing the outtakes and additional footage of Coolidge, though, is great.

Ultimately, I went into Gentlemen Broncos with severely lowered expectations and I discovered a film that was a fun and funny as the previews promised. That is a nice change and Gentlemen Broncos is a worthwhile film to watch.

For other works with Jennifer Coolidge, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Two Broke Girls - Season 1
Epic Movie
American Dreamz
Date Movie
Legally Blonde
Best In Show


Check out how this film stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page for a listing of films from best to worst!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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