In an interview with the LA Times’ Robert Abele, “Gentlemen Broncos” director Jared Hess recounts something his grandmother recently said to him, “She was talking to one of my younger brothers…and she said, ‘Well I’m glad Jared likes this history stuff, ’cause I tell you what, this comedy thing sure isn’t gonna last much longer!” Unfortunately for Hess, the critical concensus is that granny was right.
Returning to “Napoleon Dynamite” territory, quirky characters frolic in Utah in a script co-authored by Hess and his wife Jerusha, “Gentlemen Broncos” follows seventeen year old Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano). Benjamin is sent to a writer’s camp by his mother (Jennifer Coolidge) to develop his sci-fi writing. There, he meets Dr. Ronald Chevalier (“Flight of the Conchords”‘ Jemaine Clement), a sci-fi writer plagued with writer’s block, the flirtatious Tabitha (Halley Feiffer), and the effeminate Lonnie (Hector Jimenez). Once Benjamin gets to camp, though, his masterpiece “Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years” is stolen by Chevalier and adapted into a film (starring Sam Rockwell in a multi-wigged performance).
In a near-failing review from Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum, she says, “As they did in ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ and ‘Nacho Libre,’ the Hesses claim to celebrate the amusing qualities of misshapen people and their misshapen dreams, insisting that amateurism and bad taste (both in filmmaking and in life) are intentional artistic choices. The audience may have bought the act in ‘Napoleon Dynamite.’ But this time, the act bombs.” Frank Scheck, in The Hollywood Reporter agrees, saying “There’s no denying the affection that the filmmaker obviously holds for his collection of peculiar characters and their distinctive milieu, nor his eye for the sort of offbeat visual details that lends needed comic texture to the proceedings. But his vision, however authentic, here proves simply wearisome.”
Slant‘s Andrew Schenker says of the film’s scriptwriters, “whereas that great creator of quirky supporting characters, Charles Dickens, wisely stuck each of his comic grotesques with a single distinctive gesture or phrase, Hess’s figures are so overloaded with bad ideas it’s difficult to tell what the joke is supposed to be. The only thing that’s clear is that it’s not very funny.” In a particularly meandering rant in his short review in the Village Voice, Scott Foundas says, “But both ‘Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years’ and the life of its author are subject to so much projectile vomit, animal flatulence, and innumerable plays on the word ‘anus’ that even first-graders may find their tolerance tested. ‘You took my nads!’ and ‘Eat the corn out of my crap’ vie for their place in the catchphrase canon, and an animatronic deer fires missiles out of its ass, though it’s ‘Flight of the Conchords” Jemaine Clement who handily steals the show as a bestselling fanboy scribe sky-high on his own pomposity. Hess deserves credit, I suppose, for so effectively channeling his inner seven-year-old.”
In New York Magazine, David Edelstein calls the film an “enchantingly freakish comedy” and says of Clement’s performance, “Even if you love him on ‘Flight of the Conchords,’ you’ll be unprepared for his genius—and charisma.” Edelstein muses, “There’s enough weird breast imagery in this movie to make Robert Crumb murmur, ‘This guy’s got issues’…There’s a bit when bodice-ripper writer Tabitha (Halley Feiffer, a whiz with deadpan) squirts lotion all over her hand and asks an aghast Benjamin to rub it in, as her rictus-faced friend Lonnie leans into her ear issuing moose calls and crunching potato chips; David Lynch would murmur, ‘This guy’s got issues.” In the New York Press, Armond White also defends the film, even defining Hess as the leader of a new breed of filmmakers, “Among the American Eccentric directors—those filmmakers who came of age in the Star Wars generation—Jared Hess is the most offbeat….This is personal filmmaking, surveying the private emotions that generally embarrass people or make us feel out of step—a daring proposition in an era that frantically insists upon marketable conformity. Hess works out scenarios that reveal naked idiosyncrasy…This mix of hokum and sincerity is unusual, yet genuine…It’s all part of our authentic and poignant cultural mess.”