Friday, November 06, 2009

Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

This one is going to split viewers - or at least, the small number of viewers who get to see it since it's basically been dumped by the studio.

In each of his three movies, Jared Hess has walked the fine line between making fun of his oddball characters (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) and empathizing with them and their unusual plights. Many have seen these movies as essentially mean-spirited and exploitative, making fun of these weirdos. Personally, I see Hess as being on the side of the dreamers and outcasts, but also recognizing that comedy comes from pain, and the most acute pain comes from social ostracism. And in each of his movies, Hess has balanced the pain with triumph - Napoleon wows his high schoolmates with his dance performance, Nacho wins the wrestling match, and in this movie Benjamin Purvis finds a way to make his loved ones' dreams come true. These are sweet, gentle-hearted movies that also happen to have a piercing eye for the absurd and aren't afraid of the occasional poop joke.

Anyway, Gentlemen Broncos, which sounds like it could involve gay cowboys eating pudding, is the story of Ben Purvis, a teenage sci-fi writer whose dreams run into two obstacles - absurdly pompous author Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement, featuring the greatest accent on Earth) and a pair of low-budget teenage filmmakers who bastardize Ben's already bizarre story, which involves genital hazards and flying deer that fire missiles and yeast - it's all a bit hard to describe. Suffice to say that for me, Gentlemen Broncos was delightful, and if you don't want to see Sam Rockwell launching himself into the sky through the power of flatulence or Jemaine Clement ponderously explaining how sci-fi names can always be improved through the addition of '-onious' or '-anous', then I don't know what else to tell you. And Mike White as a longhaired creep with an ill snake? And Halley Feiffer getting a hand massage with too much lotion? Freakazoid bliss.

Hess's visual style has been compared to that of Wes Anderson, with an emphasis on centered framings and odd tangential details, but I realized in this movie that the two filmmakers are interested in radically different themes - Hess focusses on people in marginalized, out-of-the-way places, whereas Anderson focusses on people in the most chic and stylish places (who nonetheless are broken and lonely as well). And don't get me wrong, I love Anderson's films, but I absolutely find a huge amount of value in Jared Hess's resolutely anti-glamorous films as well.


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