Gentlemen Broncos

Release Date: October 30, 2009
Limited release

Ladies and gentlemen, young William Miller from Almost Famous!

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93/169 Max Braden If you like the total silliness of Napoleon Dynamite you might like this. It's a good sendup of the fantasy writer's market, and both Clement and Rockwell are funny.

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I received an irate phone call back in 2002 from an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years. Justin (a fictitious name) and I worked on several creative projects together, including a science fiction story that we’d naively planned to shop around as a spec script. According to Justin there was a new show on television called Firefly, and to him it looked an awful lot like that script we’d worked on. He wanted to know how much money Joss Whedon had given me and whether or not I’d picked out a gold plated Ferrari with it. I told him I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and that this was just the sort of instability that had led to our no longer working together. I wondered aloud why I hadn’t thought to change my phone number while he rattled off the names of the cast, reminding me that I was at one time loosely acquainted one of them. While this was indeed a fact it was also complete coincidence; but as a result I had a hard time convincing him that I was being sincere. Nevertheless, I reiterated for the record that I’d never met Joss Whedon and that I wouldn’t know the man if he walked right past my living room window - something that remains true to this day.

Justin continued seething at me like Ahab, lashed to the side of the whale,, ever unwilling to admit that his anxiety was entirely self imposed - and we haven’t spoken since. Later, I took a look at Firefly and although there were some casual similarities to our project, they were laughably incidental. To claim anything more would be like the creator of Gilligan’s Island taking credit for Lost just because both shows are about castaways. There are a lot of creative people in this world, and some of them are undoubtedly working with similar ideas. But often the difference between success and failure just comes down to who gets off the couch first. The real source of Justin's angst was that at that time two sluggish, twenty-something slackers like us had a better chance of curing the common cold than of getting a spec script read. Firefly was a slightly derivative but wonderfully clever concept while ours was lurid and boorish, more along the lines of Red Dwarf meets Pulp Fiction minus the humor. I think the whole thing is pretty funny now, but I’ll never forget the hurt and anger in Justin’s voice as he hung up the phone, hopelessly convinced of something so inconcievably far fetched. But I can say that as an artist I really have had ideas appropriated by others once or twice and trust me, true plagiarism is no laughing matter.

Or is it? According to Jared Hess, the writer and director of Fox Searchlight’s new film Gentlemen Broncos, it's downright hysterical! And if you think that name sounds familiar, it should. For after paying his dues as a camera operator and some time cinematographer, Hess struck pay dirt in his own right with 2004’s breakout hit Napoleon Dynamite and again two years later with the unexpectedly charming Nacho Libre. Both films won praise as warm, often surreal comic narratives, each centering on eccentric loners with big dreams but precious little credibility – and Hess continues his signature theme with Gentlemen Broncos.

Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano) is a bookish small town teenager, home schooled by his quirky, overprotective mother (Jennifer Coolidge). Unlike most teens, Benjamin is disinterested and aloof, preferring to spend his time immersed in science fiction and fantasy novels, hoping one day to become a writer himself. In an effort to bring him out of his shell without discouraging his ambitions, Benjamin’s mother enrolls him in a fantasy writer’s workshop specifically for home schooled children. There, Benjamin is thrilled to discover that one of the speakers is his favorite author, the legendary Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Inspired by this experience, Benjamin submits a sample of his work to a contest sponsored by Chevalier. Chevalier becomes enamored of it and desperate for new ideas, he publishes it as his own - even going so far as to develop a hilariously abysmal movie adaptation! Apalled, Benjamin must redeem his creation by going to war with the man he once idolized, with the improbable goal of exposing Chevalier as the pretentious fraud he is.

Like Hess’ previous work, Gentlemen Broncos takes place in an off center world where it seems hip to be square, and the difference between ambition and affection isn’t always clear. The trailers reveal something of a movie-within a movie concept, where we see the differences between Benjamin’s original story and Chevalier’s attempt to hijack the novel while inserting enough of his own material to convince others that it really is original. The film has generated considerable advance buzz, thanks in part to Hess’ sizeable fan base, as well as an aggressive internet campaign that’s been in full swing for over a year. Broncos made quite a splash at the 2009 Fantastic Fest film festival, earning standout praise for fan favorites Sam Rockwell and Jemaine Clement. Rockwell portrays the fictional hero of the novel who in Benjamin’s version strikes a vaguely Rob Zombie-meets-Buck Rogers tone. But in Chevalier’s adaptation he hilariously morphs into what I have heard (disturbingly yet accurately) described as a ‘transvestite Captain Kangaroo’! And as for Clement’s take on Chevalier himself, it may prove to be the movie's breakout character. He looks like a second rate Orson Welles and sounds like Frasier Crane making fun of Michael York. Chevalier is the epitome of pretentious narcissism and if the trailers are any indication you’ll find yourself laughing uncontrollably whenever he’s on screen.

To me, Jared Hess is to the 21st Century scorned idealist as Tim Burton is to late 20th Century neo-gothic nihilism. Both appeal to the escapist dreamer in all of us; the child who doesn’t mind growing up, but only because it means nobody can keep you from eating ice cream for dinner if you want to. There’s a definite essence to the sort of composed idealism that’s keenly aware of the harsh realities of life but still refuses to be intimidated by them. Few film makers have the ability to capture it but I have a feeling that with Gentlemen Broncos, Jared Hess may truly hit his stride as a film maker. He might finally find the right measure of message that will keep his formula successful for many years to come. I find myself anxious to come along for the ride, and if there’s an ounce of romantic in you at all, I’ll bet that you are too.

And Justin, if you’re out there somewhere, I swear I had nothing whatsoever to do with it. (Bruce Hall/BOP)

Vital statistics for Gentlemen Broncos
Main Cast Michael Angarano, Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement
Director Jared Hess
Screenwriter Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
Distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rating PG-13
Screen Count 2
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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