Monday, December 10, 2012

Gentleman Broncos - Hess (Movie)

"I hope everyone likes our movie, Venonka."
So, you liked "Napoleon Dynamite", but you didn't feel that cool about it because most everyone else did too, huh?  Well then, here is the film for you: "Gentleman Broncos" (2009) from Dynamite director Jared Hess!  Both films were written by Hess and his wife Jerusa.  Don't worry, this film is not well known and loved by millions; if fact, so few people thought the film would be well received that instead of being shown in theaters across the country (as was originally planned) it went straight to DVD!  This film is not loved, it has a %19 rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it doesn't fare much better anywhere else.  So you can see why--although I love this movie--I cannot recommend it without hesitation.  If you choose to see the film, you may very well be left with the unsettling feeling that you have just watched one of the weirdest movies of all time.

"Gentleman Broncos" is--at its heart--about what happens to art as it is changed or adapted.  Motivations for doing so are also explored.  Lead character, Benjamin Purvis, has written a bizarre sci-fi novel (which the movie tells us it actually quite good) in honor of his deceased father.  Throughout "Gentleman Broncos" we get to see it as it is, as it is once adapted to the "big screen", and as it is once it has been plagiarized.  I'm not delve deeply into plot points, but there's the basic premise.

"Benji Boy"

Let's start with what is perceived as being so bad about "Gentleman Broncos" that makes it so hated by so many.  In part, it's gross and it's weird.  This is one of the few PG-13 movies out there that has no sex, no swearing, and almost no violence.  What then, could earn this rating?  If you watch it, you'll know.  At points the film is almost dark in its merciless portrayal of how awkward the characters are and how strange their lives are.  I'll be the first to admit it's not an easy film to watch for this reason.  Some moments stumble over the line between comedy and horror; in one scene Benji's mom, Judith (Jennifer Coolidge) is screaming from an unexpected wound, she screams and screams as the camera zooms in disconcertingly.  Ebert complains that the plot "mystifies" the characters.  Another aspect of the film some people don't care for is how bounces around between the the real world and depictions of Benji's story.  All I have to say to that is if you'll simply pay attention you'll be fine.  Some people also think it's boring and pointless and blah blah blah.

Okay cool, now that we have that crap out of the way let us move on to a much more accurate review: mine.  From this point on I'm going to be pretending like everyone would love this movie.  "Gentleman Broncos" has it all!  Humor!  Originality!  Superb acting!  And lest we forget, quotability!  This is the kind of movie you can watch over and over again because you definitely missed something the first, second, and third times through.  Like Napoleon, it has a lot of short scenes.

 I could easily write about this movie for hours, enumerating what I feel is artful scene after artful scene, but I'll spare you.  It suffices me to say it is well written and well directed.  I would actually like to focus on just one aspect of the movie, one which I feel those who gave negative reviews all but completely ignore: the acting.  I can think of few movies with more consistently good acting then this one.  "Flight of the Conchords" co-star Jermaine Clements plays esteemed sci-fi novelist Ronald Chevalier, whose dualistically styled name is a window into the nature of his character.  He plays Chevalier with such effortlessness you would swear he wasn't acting, but we know from his other work that he is nothing like the pompous and arrogant (not to mention deep-voiced) writer we see on-screen.  Sam Rockwell pulls off his twin roll of Bronco/Brutus with about as much ease.  I didn't even realize my first few times viewing the movie that it was the same actor; the characters seem to exist in different galaxies.  Although Coolidge is a well-known Hollywood actress, she takes on a level of believability in the admittedly difficult role of Benji's mom that again makes us think she is just a woman who acts that way all the time, more-or-less playing herself.  This is not the case.  And finally we come to Benji himself, the "star."  Rarely do we see a protagonist with so few lines, though he is in the majority of the movie's scenes.  He doesn't have much to say, but that's alright because his face tells us all we need to know.  Pay special attention to his eyes, which seem to have a life of their own.  Other notable performances include Mike White as Benji's "guardian angel" from church and "Nacho Libre" co-star Hector Jimenez who plays a bizarre native-American high school student who makes films; "mostly trailers," he explains.  Critics complain that while there are Big Names on the screen, nothing is happening.  I feel this is akin to complaining that your nature walk was boring; while you wait around in vain for the movie to push you through one tired comedic plot-point to another, you are missing the art of the film, the execution of each moment.

Bronco triumphantly rides a battle stag.
The director and the actors know that the material is over-the-top, the characters are wacky, their motivations and the results are wacky, so they handle it the right way.  In a word: understated.  There's not a lot of crazy screaming or goofy faces.  The movie is even beautifully absent of that almost undetectable comic inflection seen in so many movies that let's you know the actors are "just kidding."  They are sincere, which I think is a turn-off for some.  For me however, I can't get enough.  All throughout the movie we hear some of the finest line deliveries in memory, but these gems are too quickly discounted because someone threw up in the last scene.  People sometimes throw up; get over it.

Who can forget such memorable quotes as, "How about this?  Moon Fetus... A fetus is found on a moon base...that's the premise."  And, "Circle of life, man."  And, "My dad, kind of, died when I was young."  And, "I couldn't find any tampons so I just bought some treats for Lonnie and me."  And so many more I can't even begin to write them all.  Well I guess I did begin, but you know.

I leave you with the following promotional video that is actually not in the movie (it actually is kind of relaxing to image a planet with life forming on it): 

-MA 12.10.12

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree that the acting is blow-your-mind good, and even if the story seems crazy, it's really about art, friendship, and a boy learning to be a man.