Dir. by Jared Hess - 1 hr. 29 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
I suspect a lot of how much a particular viewer enjoys this movie depends heavily on how old they are. To me, "Gentlemen Broncos" feels like it's straight out of 1983, or at least what I remember of that era from my childhood. I have some nostalgic fondness for some of the things this film is based upon, but if you didn't, I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking that this film was about much of anything at all.
Teenage, home-schooled science-fiction writer Benjamin (Michael Angarano) gets the opportunity to attend Cletus Fest, a writing workshop for high-schoolers. The keynote speaker is Benajmin's favorite writer, Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), who ends up giving awful advice to everyone involved (ranging from the importance of suffixes for character names, to selling out your work as hard and enthusiastically as possible). Benjamin enters one of his stories, "Yeast Lords," in a writing competition to be judged by Chevalier. Also, we get to see what the "Yeast Lords" story looks like as a film, from no less than three different perspectives (explaining why would spoil things a bit much).
All of this is a lot to juggle, in terms of presenting a coherent story. Complicating matters is the trademark weirdness that director Jared Hess brings to the table (you might know him from "Napoleon Dynamite" or "Nacho Libre"). I don't know that "weirdness" is exactly the right way to describe it; his characters exist with almost a complete lack of guile or self-awareness. When that's the norm, the world feels very odd indeed. Plus, there are so many odd details to this world (and that's even before we talk about the "Yeast Lords" sequences) that are never acknowledged as unusual (instance number one: Benjamin and his mother, Judith (Jennifer Coolidge), live inside of a geodesic dome), and it can leave a viewer shaking his head that people actually can live this way. I don't know whether or not people do, but that's the reality presented. Some of the humor comes from people in improbable or odd situations, yet taking themselves and their surrounding perfectly seriously. If you've seen "Napoleon Dynamite," you obviously know what I'm talking about.
Perhaps the most interesting parts of the film are the visions of "Yeast Lords." Depending on which of the three versions you're watching, the main character of Bronco (Sam Rockwell) either looks like a mountain man, Edgar Winter, or like a frightened mannequin with a crimped mullet (Mike White). It's never explicitly stated who's version is connected to whom, but if you pay attention visually, it's explained. They all come across as unbearably awfully produced home movies (and I mean that in the funniest way possible), filled with things like yeast that makes you fly (and appears either to be a giant piece of dung or a giant, hard double chocolate chip cookie) and battle-stags. All three versions are hilarious for their own reasons.
What makes this an interesting film for me is that either of the two main parts of this film (the teenage small-town writer and the "Yeast Lords" material) would probably not end up making for a good movie on their own. It's the juxtaposition of the undeniably weird "real world" against the story world (that, against all odds, ends up being even weirder) that keeps things moving along. The low-budget awesomeness of the "Yeast Lords" material would wear thin on it's own, and Benjamin's story would probably be too earnest to enjoy. I can't deny, having grown up in a small town in the 1980's, having read science fiction books during that era, and also seeing a parallel between the hero-worship of the accessible (and probably not that famous) Chevalier and the comic-book industry that I cut my teeth in (Comic-Con is cool and mainstream now, but twenty years ago a regional convention didn't look much different than the world portrayed here), I felt a connection to "Gentlemen Broncos'' that someone in my circumstances may not have felt. This film isn't as good as "Napoleon Dynamite" or "Nacho Libre," but it's insanely creative, and ambitious in a weird, no-budget way.
3 / 5 - DVD