In a quirky, symmetrically shot universe not so very far away, a teenage loner named Benjamin is about to become a man.
No, not like that.
Gentlemen Broncos doesn’t abide sex (or swearing), even as it abounds with poop and balls jokes. It is the third full-length film from the Mormon movie-making married duo Jared and Jerusha Hess. In 2004, the couple drew big laughs with the relatively chaste Napoleon Dynamite, whose titular high-school loser’s imagination generated a scorn-proof reality barrier. Awkward and hilarious, Dynamite had audiences shouting “Gosh!” and “Idiot!” for at least a year post-release. Now, after a brief foray into the world of Mexican wrestling (2006’s Nacho Libre), the Hesses have returned to their first love: high-school boys.
Broncos’ Ben (Angarano) is a home-schooled aspiring science-fiction scribe, whose widowed mother (Christopher Guest favorite Coolidge) designs very modest nightwear. At a state writing festival, the cowering, earnest young man encounters Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) — who pens bodice-rippers and steals his scarce money — as well as his hero, the once prodigious sci-fi writer Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), who will plagiarize Ben’s epic Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years.
Unlike Napoleon, only Ben’s written fantasy is impenetrable. In real life he is gullible, weak, and ashamed — the very antithesis of his literary protagonist and father stand-in, Bronco. (Mom tries to implement a surrogate papa, but it’s just Mike White in a wig and a tracksuit with a leaky snake). When his opus is pilfered from him — Chevalier transforms Benjamin’s hairy beast Bronco into a lisping tranny named Brutus — he finally springs into action and Angarano becomes more interesting to watch than a pet rock.
I fear I’ve described this as a funny movie. It is not. Rather, Gentleman Broncos begs a moratorium on unvarying visual symmetry, quirk for quirk’s sake, and ill-timed testicle humor. That may sound like the castration of indie cinema, but let’s not throw the ball sack out with the bathwater — I’m just asking for some discretion. — Ashley Lindstrom