Fantastic Fest Review: GENTLEMEN BRONCOS
Writers: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
Director: Jared Hess
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Michael Angarano, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Coolidge, Mike White
Studio: Fox Searchlight
The latest eccentric tale from husband and wife writing/directing team Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, NACHO LIBRE), GENTLEMEN BRONCOS follows a young introvert (Michael Angarano) as he has his dreams fulfilled by meeting his idol, famed fantasy writer Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Yet Chevalier is not the role model he appears to be as he, in an act of desperation, plagiarizes the boy's passion project to meet a publishing deadline. The boy's dreams are turned into a nightmare as his story, YEAST LORDS, is mauled like a young warrior squirrel by a rabid war wolf.
Let me preface in saying that I really, very desperately wanted to love GENTLEMEN BRONCOS. I thoroughly enjoyed NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, as many did, and liked NACHO LIBRE, which plenty did not. The Hess duo have a knack for creating unique characters that are so over-the-top, yet genuine in the universe they operate in that you can't help but love them. They remind us of the very people we encounter in our daily lives, that seem to see the world in some kind of different way. Call them laser rose-tinted glasses.
And that is the very thing that I did thoroughly enjoy about BRONCOS, the characters. As Chevalier, Clement channels his inner Bowie from FLIGHT OF THE CONCORDS, playing the character with such comically arrogant bravado that you can't help but both hate him and love him. Angarano plays young Benjamin with such a genuine awkwardness, vulnerability, and appeal that you can't help but both feel sorry for him, root for him, and share in his hate/love for Chevalier. The additional cast of colorful characters are equally as likable and laughable. Mike White as the 80s hair band reject/snake charmer/guardian angel Dusty. Jennifer Coolidge as the supportive mother to Benjamin. And last but not least, the brilliantly odd Sam Rockwell, appearing as both Brutus and Bronco. Both warriors, but very different in style. Bronco, Benjamin's creation, could be Zaphod Beeblebrox's long lost, rough-edged brother. Brutus, Chevalier's imagining, is more flamboyant, channeling what can only be described as a transvestite Hulk Hogan.
Which brings me to the other thing I very much enjoyed about GENTLEMEN BRONCOS. The story within the story that we are privy to. Both Benjamin's YEAST LORDS and Chevalier's BRUTUS & BALZAAK are the most enjoyable aspects of the film. Being that they are films within a film, Hess uses this chance to let his imagination run unhindered, creating fantasy universes that would make even Michael Ende blush.
Unfortunately, these two things were not enough to take GENTLEMEN BRONCOS to the moon for me. The film lacked a defined pacing, leaving it feeling as if it was a group of hilarious, enjoyable scenes strung together without an overall cohesive point. The plagiarism story line, which would appear to be the main plot, becomes more of a subplot and afterthought. The result is a group of highly enjoyable characters operating in entertaining scenes that have no overall defined point.
GENTLEMEN BRONCOS left me wishing that it did not get bucked off its battle stag in the last act, as I wanted to love it, but can only truthfully say that I enjoyed it and not much more. In its moments of brilliance, it does not do enough to be completely brilliant. Admittedly though, both NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and NACHO LIBRE are the types of films that grew (centaur) legs and earned their place in my heart with repeat viewings. I am willing to give GENTLEMEN BRONCOS the same courtesy I gave the other beloved works of Hess & Co. Dr. Chevalier requested a second chance in life and I just may give it to him.
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