Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other movies.
I’ll cut right to the chase. Gentlemen Broncos is an incredibly weird movie. Being that it was written and directed by Jared Hess, the mind behind cult hit Napolean Dynamite and the absurd luchadore movie Nacho Libre, I expected a healthy dose of quirkiness as I selected this film from the Netflix Watch Instantly library. I had no idea what I was in for. Gentlemen Broncos is a movie that defies logic, reason and sanity, but oddly enough, it is in no way a disaster. In fact, it’s one of the most fresh, original and unusual movies I’ve seen in recent memory, and since watching it I’ve been unable to get it out of my head.
Gentlemen Broncos is the story of teenage, home-schooled science fiction writer Benjamin Purvis (Sky High‘s Michael Angarano) who lives in a bizarre geodesic domed house with his doting mother (Jennifer Coolidge). Benjamin’s father died when he was young, and in an effort to pay tribute to his dad (who was clearly his hero), Benjamin has written a sci-fi novella titled “Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years”. When the opportunity arises to attend a fantasy/sci-fi writing convention where his idol, famed sci-fi author Dr. Ronald Chevalier, will be the guest of honour, Benjamin leaps at the chance. It turns out that Chevalier is hosting a contest wherein aspiring writers submit their stories and the winning entry is given a publishing deal and a piece of custom-made cover art by Chevalier himself. Benjamin submits “Yeast Lords” into the contest, but unbeknownst to him, Chevalier’s well of strange story ideas has run dry. After Chevalier reads Benjamin’s extremely weird tale of Bronco (Sam Rockwell), last of the Yeast Lords, his pet bobcat, and the evil Lord Daysius doing battle on a far-away planet, Chevalier decides to plagiarize the story in a bid to save his career. Occasionally we get to see clips of “Yeast Lords” in its two different forms: one as Benjamin imagines the story, the other as Chevalier imagines it.
The plot is actually a lot more complex than that, with Benjamin’s mother hiring a guardian angel (played by Mike White) to keep him company as she tries to get her career in fashion off the ground, and two eccentric independant filmmakers attempting to adapt “Yeast Lords” into a movie, but the paragraph above details the real meat of the story, so I won’t go too far into the secondary plotlines because it would just take too much time.
One of the things that I loved the most about Gentlemen Broncos is that it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to its weirdness. The movie is utterly bizarre from start to finish, and I loved every minute of it. This is nothing like the level of oddity that you get from Napolean Dynamite or Nacho Libre. This is full-blown, all-out lunacy…but I found it incredibly entertaining. The movie never slows down for a second, and there’s always something to keep you invested. Gentlemen Broncos doesn’t adhere to only one kind of quirk, either, as it will bounce from high-brow jokes about the writing process and the pretentiousness of successful science fiction authors to having an albino python poop on someone’s shoulder.
But even more than that, I absolutely loved the sequences where we get to see “Yeast Lords” as it exists in Benjamin’s (or Chevalier’s) head. Sam Rockwell is obviously having a great time with the nonsensical story, and with random elements such as flying, robotic killer deer, it’s impossible not to crack a smile as you watch.
Another part of the appeal of Gentlemen Broncos is its production style. It’s never stated when the movie is set, but it’s clearly supposed to be evoking the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, because every little detail in the film has a vintage, nostalgia-inducing feel to it. But the story is definitely not set during the 1980’s, because it also includes details like Chevalier’s Bluetooth earpiece (which he never uses). It’s an unusual mashup of past and present, and the end result is that in spite of all its strangeness, the film feels very familiar. As a movie buff, I was particularly enamored of the VHS video camera that one of the characters uses to shoot his short films. But nothing can compare to the vintage science fiction novel cover art that serves as the film’s opening credits. As a child of the 80’s and a fan of science fiction, I was instantly hooked by the lineup of gorgeous and surreal sci-fi novel covers. Because of this nostalgic style, Gentlemen Broncos could pass as a Wes Anderson movie…if Wes Anderson took up smoking crack.
The performances are all quite good in Gentlemen Broncos, which is important with such an odd story, as the characters are what we as viewers need to keep us invested in what’s going on onscreen. Michael Angarano is perfect as the shy, awkward, socially-inept Benjamin, raised on pulpy sci-fi books, constantly missing his deceased father. Jennifer Coolidge does a great job with the role of Benjamin’s mother, and manages to make the character very different from the role she’s most known for – Stifler’s Mom in American Pie. But the real stand-out of the cast (other than Sam Rockwell, but perhaps that goes without saying) is Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords) as Dr. Ronald Chevalier. He plays Chevalier with a perfect mix of writer’s block desperation and egotistical celebrity flare. His costume is also really good, as I probably never would have recognized him had I not seen his name in the opening credits.
Unfortunately, there is one weak link in the cast, and it comes in the form of Hector Jimenez (previously featured in Hess’s Nacho Libre). While Jimenez’s character – indie filmmaker Lonnie Donaho – is an interesting one, Jimenez is clearly trying to make Donaho of the stand-out quirky characters in the film, and I would say he tries a little too hard. He’s not bad, but he’s nowhere near the same level as some of the other actors here.
Finally, I have to mention the utterly awesome soundtrack. Jared Hess really did a fantastic job assembling the songs (all from the 1980’s or before) that play throughout the film, and featured tracks include “The Wind of Change” by the Scorpions, “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas, “In The Year 2525” by Zager & Evans, and “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. The inclusion of these truly great tunes makes the movie a joy to listen to as well as to watch, and somehow the songs really suit the mood of the film.
Gentlemen Broncos is not a movie for everyone. It’s simply to weird or too disgusting at times to recommend to just anybody, but those who enjoy weird movies, vintage sci-fi novels, seriously quirky characters or just flat-out surreality will find Gentlemen Broncos to be a true gem. Even just writing this review has made me want to revisit it, and to me, that’s the mark of an effective movie. And besides, where else are you going to see Sam Rockwell fly a robotic deer that shoots missiles out its ass?
4 out of 5