Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Movie Review: Gentleman Broncos

Gentlemen Broncos **
Directed By:
Jared Hess.
Written By: Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess.
Starring: Michael Angarano (Benjamin), Jemaine Clement (Chevalier), Jennifer Coolidge (Judith), Héctor Jiménez (Lonnie Donaho), Halley Feiffer (Tabatha), Sam Rockwell (Bronco/Brutus), Mike White (Dusty), Johnny Hoops (Kanaya/Kenonka), John Baker (Don Carlos), Suzanne May (Vanaya/Venonka), Edgar Oliver (Duncan/Lord Daysius).

I seem to be the only person in the world who thought that Napoleon Dynamite was a laugh free void of a movie. The film has become a huge cult hit, and at the time it was also hit a critical hit as well. Director Jared Hess followed that film up with Nacho Libre, another film that many people seemed to think was hilarious, but once again failed to make me laugh. So I am honestly not sure what to make of Gentleman Broncos, his most recent film. I cannot say that I didn’t laugh during this film - I laughed a number of times, some of them at some brilliant comedy set pieces. Yet, I still feel that the film is overall not very good. There is some sort of comic gold in this film, but Hess’ instincts seem to lead more to mockery of his characters rather than trying to build comedy from the ground up.

Benjamin (Michael Angarano) is home schooled by his mother Judith (Jennifer Coolidge), who works at a department store and makes weird dresses and nightgowns in her spare time. Benjamin’s father is dead, and he likes to wear his old clothes. His hobby is science fiction, as he devours the books of his hero Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), and writes his own stories as well about a character he has named Bronco (brought to life by Sam Rockwell is the movies dramatizes of the story). He goes off to a writer’s conference where Chevalier himself will be a speaker, as well as being a judge of the contest. Chevalier is an egomaniacal artist in the worst possible way, but he is having trouble with his publisher, who threatens to drop him if he doesn’t come up with something fast. When he reads Benjamin’s story Yeast Wars, he decides to steal it. He transforms Bronco into Brutus, and turns him from a manly man to a effeminate man, but other than that keeps the story just as it was before. Unaware of what is going on, Benjamin also sells the story to Lonnie (Hector Jimenez), someone he met on his trip to the conference who makes movies. With the help of Tabatha (Halley Feiffer), a girl who Benjamin has a crush on, and Dusty (Mike White), a former head banger who is now Benjamin’s “Guardian Angel” thanks to his mother signing him up for the program at their church, Lonnie turns Benjamin’s story into a low budget movie, but like Chevalier, he twists it to meet his own needs.

The movie starts out brilliantly. The scenes at the writer’s conference are wonderfully funny and intelligent. Chevalier teaches a seminar at the conference about naming your characters in science fiction and fantasy. All you have to do, apparently, to turn an ordinary name magical is to add suffixes like anious or anus. This is the films best scene, and is brilliantly well played by Clement, who is the best of all the actors in the film. Angarano is also quite good, and unlike the other Hess protagonists, he is actually quite sympathetic and likable.

But Hess’ tendency to mock his characters shows through in his portrayal of everyone else. Coolidge is playing an even more clueless version of her normal character. Tabatha is a hypocrite and a horrible person who is mocked mercilessly, as is Dusty, the former metal head with a snake. But its Hector Jimenez’s performance as Lonnie that I found particularly hateful and offensive. It is an offensive gay stereotype, and a rather hateful portrayal of a Latino man who serves no dramatic purpose in the film other than to be mocked and held up for ridicule. I’m also not sure what purpose of dramatizing the scenes from Benjamin’s book with Sam Rockwell, unless it is to prove that Benjamin has no real talent, as the story is ridiculous and stupid.

Personally, I think Gentleman Broncos is a step forward for Hess. What works in the movie works tremendously well. There are moments and scenes as funny as any movie I have seen this year. And yet, the movie never really comes together. Whenever the film seems to gaining some momentum, something comes along and completely derails it. Hess may one day make a movie I actually like. This is not that movie, but it’s closer than he had come before.

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