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Sunday, March 7, 2010

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS -- DVD review by porfle

I imagine that comedies about total nerds appeal to two seperate groups--the cool people who look down on the characters and laugh derisively at them, and the total nerds who can identify with them. Personally, I've always aspired to be part of a third category--the "cool nerd"--and thus able to enjoy GENTLEMEN BRONCOS (2009) from both perspectives. (Yeah, I know--all nerds think they're cool.) Either way, it's an exceedingly funny and inventive film that anyone can appreciate in one way or another.

Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano) is a high school nerd who lives with his widowed mother Judith (Jennifer Coolidge), a really bad clothing designer. Benjamin loves cheesy sci-fi/fantasy novels and has just finished his own epic entitled "Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years." During his stay at a writers' camp known as Cletus Fest, he submits his story in an amateur writers' contest which will be judged by legendary author Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement) of the famed "Cyborg Harpies" trilogy. The stuffy and conceited Chevalier, who has run out of ideas and is about to get the boot from his publisher, goes ga-ga over Benjamin's manuscript and submits it as his own work, whereupon it becomes a huge bestseller.

Angarano wisely underplays the role of the introspective, world-weary but guardedly optimistic Benjamin, serving as the outwardly calm center for the storm of goofball characters swirling around him. Clement's bad-sci-fi author Ronald Chevalier is the quintessential full-of-himself minor celebrity who is as pretentious and self-important as he is achingly banal. Two fellow nerds whom Benjy meets on the bus to writers' camp are Halley Feiffer as the friendly but manipulative Tabatha and Héctor Jiménez as overtly eccentric amateur filmmaker Lonnie Donaho (Jiménez pulls the most awesomely extreme fish-face in every shot) who end up making a hideously awful videotape version of "Yeast Lords" with Lonnie playing the female lead.

Fans of Sam Rockwell (GALAXY QUEST, THE GREEN MILE) should have a ball watching him play two wildly different characters here: first, he's Benjy's mental image of the "Yeast Lords" hero Bronco, a bearded, long-haired wild man (based on Benjy's late, lamented father whom he barely knew) whose potent gonads are sought after by bad-guy Daysius as cloning stock; and second, as Chevalier's altered version of the character (renamed "Brutus") as a mincing, platinum-blonde transsexual who looks like a cross between Captain Kangaroo and one of the Nelson twins. Scenes from both versions of Benjy's sprawling saga supply some of the most outrageously funny moments in the film.

Best of all is the great Jennifer Coolidge (AMERICAN PIE, BEST IN SHOW) as Benjy's equally nerdy mom, Judith. Her dream is to be a clothing designer specializing in nightgowns--when she proudly displays her sketches, they're deliciously awful. She also makes horrible matching outfits for Benjy and herself, which, to his credit, Benjy wears without protest because his eternally supportive mom is also his best friend. Coolidge plays the role with utter sincerity which makes her that much funnier, and she's a joy to watch. (The outtakes reel features some of her hilarious ad-libs breaking up the cast and crew.)

The blissfully spaced-out Dusty (Mike White), a member of the "Guardian Angel" program at Judith's church whom she has enlisted to be a friend to Benjy, teaches him how to use a homemade blowgun, and when Benjy accidentally fires a dart into Judith's left boob, her screaming reaction is priceless. Later, Judith is molested by a rich buyer who has expressed interest in her designs, and when Benjy leaps to her defense, the guy starts shooting at them from the balcony of his mansion as they cower behind their car.

Another highlight occurs as we see Lonnie's dreadful screen adaptation of "Yeast Lords" get its grand premiere at a local movie theater, with Dusty starring as Bronco. This prompts Chevalier to threaten Lonnie with a lawsuit for plagiarising his new novel (which he stole from Benjy), setting up the final confrontation between Chevalier and an increasingly-indignant Benjy.

Some of the humor in this movie is so painfully deadpan that it almost dares us not to laugh. At other times, the unbridled absurdity abounds in waves of pure delight as we're treated to sights that might make you wonder what filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess (of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and NACHO LIBRE fame) have been smoking. Much of the funny stuff is the kind that can be appreciated in an intellectually-stimulated silence, but now and then there are instances (usually involving Jennifer Coolidge) that provoke the kind of cathartic belly-laughs that make good comedy such a joy to experience.

The DVD from 20-Century Fox is in 1.85:1 widescreen with English Dolby 5.1 and Spanish and French Dolby Surround. Subtitles are in English and Spanish. Extras include outtakes, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a fun commentary track with Jared and Jerusha Hess and DP Munn Howell. (The Blu-Ray edition contains additional featurettes not found on the DVD--well, isn't that special?)

The opening titles feature a collection of wonderfully cheesy sci-fi paperback covers, one of which I actually remember seeing on the rack back in the late 60s or early 70s--something called "Gender Genocide", I think. My consumption of such literature at the time was mainly confined to "Star Trek" and the occasional Andre Norton novel, but it's still fun to see all of this old paperback cover art. The accompanying main title song is the soul-deadeningly horrible "In the Year 2525" by Zager and Evans, one of the most horrendously godawful songs ever written and thus exquisitely appropriate in this context.

I had a great time watching GENTLEMEN BRONCOS and, admittedly, identifying with a lot of it. Heck, it's fun to be a nerd sometimes, which Jared and Jerusha Hess seem to know quite well, and when Benjy finally, really smiles for the first time during the triumphant last scene, their obvious love for this oft-maligned class of people is infectious.

Buy it at


Mark Onspaugh said...

Love this film - the premise and the fact that it was made by the Hesses had me on board - finding out Jemaine Clement and Sam Rockwell were in it sealed the deal. I grew up on 60s/70s SF and the covers and homages made me smile with nostalgia - even Zager and Evans - you may call it awful, but I bought the single when I was 16 because it was a science fiction song and echoed some of the concepts I had been reading about in a genre I adored (still do).

And yes, Jennifer Coolidge is a treasure - from American Pie to the films of Christopher Guest, she has shown she can be hilarious and sexy, clumsy and endearing.

Great review, sir - thanks!

Porfle Popnecker said...

Thank you!