Gentlemen Broncos

Cyclops there; cyclops there

Let me begin with a suggestion: someone should start a running tally of films that end with Kansas’ “Wayward Son” playing over the credits.  Put that on my wish list.

Gentlemen Broncos features an outstanding performance from Jemaine Clement of the popular New Zealand duo Flight of the Conchords.  He stuffs away most of his Kiwi accent and replaces it with pure arrogance.  The story follows Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano) and his quest to be a popular science fiction author.  If you can get past the glaring inaccuracies as far as publishing, the writing process, and the “fortune” that comes from being a fiction writer, it’s an enjoyable film.

Opening with “The Year 2525” by Zager and Evans, the film promises a strange adventure.  In this respect, it delivers.  The narrative toggles between the real-life of Benjamin, who attends a sci-fi writer’s camp led by his hero, famous author Ronald Chevalier (Clement), and the story of his fictional protagonist, Bronco (Sam Rockwell), who changes appearances based upon whose version of the story is being imagined.  Chevalier’s new novel is apparently so awful that his publisher wants nothing to do with it, so he steals the best piece of student work, which happens to be Benjamin’s.  The interactions between Angarano and Clement are funny, well-acted and in some cases truly clever.

There are a few needless sideplots, including 1) a friend of Benjamin’s attempting to make his story into a zero-budget indie film.  The friend claims to have made eighty-three motion pictures and is granted a television interview in which he talks about the adaptation of Benjamin’s novel.  Why does this guy have money if his films are so obviously horrendous?  How did he get the TV interview?  Why would anyone care?  2) A misguided pseudo-romance between Benjamin and Tabatha (Halley Feiffer), which is foreshadowed from the second or third scene of the film but never addressed until 3/4 of the way through.  3) The exploits of Benjamin’s deranged mother (Jennifer Coolidge), who designs horrid dresses and makes things out of popcorn.  Edgar Oliver gets shot in the chest with darts at some point, but I’m not sure why.

Additionally, the gross-out jokes often distract from some of the very witty and creditable humor.  I counted three occasions of vomit and three occasions of feces, as well as countless testicle jokes.

I was, admittedly, turned off by the complete and utter victory of Benjamin at the end.  Quite often, popular authors who plagiarize do not have their careers abruptly diffused and disappear from public knowledge altogether (David Shields, James Frey, that Russian girl, etc), nor would the kid whose work was plagiarized actually have his book published in place of the bogus one by the already-famous author.  Nor, I hasten to add, would it sell, and if it did, he’d certainly not make enough money to a) be happy/secure, and b) start up a business for his mother.  Again, this is a world of fiction, and maybe I’m trapped in the reality of the writer, but I would have preferred Benjamin’s family to remain destitute while learning things about themselves and changing as people, while the villain wins money but lives on with the knowledge that he stole his idea from some poor kid.

All in all, this is an enjoyable and bizarre ride.  The filmmakers were wise to base the story around genre-fiction and use actual passages from the works very sparsely (though when passages appear, they consist of some of the most cringe-worthy, unpublishable writing you’ve ever heard.  Whether this is purposeful is never truly clear in the film).  It does, however, capture the eternal arrogance and idiocy of pulp sci-fi writers.  The highlights include Jemaine’s performance, the music, and the very weird settings, which quite often make use of stop-motion animation and puppets as opposed to obnoxious CG.  If you’re a writer, it’s worth a rental, and it far surpasses the annoying Napoleon Dynamite.

Note: I had this film on Netflix and misplaced it, searching for two months before discovering the sleeve behind the living-room baseboard heater.  How this happened remains a mystery.

Gentlemen Broncos (2009); written and directed by Jared and Jerusha Hess; starring Jemaine Clement, Michael Angarano and Sam Rockwell.