Gentlemen Broncos is another of Jared Hesss nerd comedies in the same vein as Napoleon Dynamite. Both Napoleon and Michael Angaranos Benjamin Purvis here have fairly similar character arcs of being nerds with certain ideas about what they want to be and the story follows the trials and tribulations of their struggle to assert such. Interviews with Jared Hess at the time of Gentlemen Broncos release make for interesting reading. Like Napoleon Dynamite, much of what goes on on screen is autobiographical on his part. Hess based the character of Benjamin on a combination of himself during his teens apparently much of The Yeast Lords was a story that Hess wrote as a teenager and a present-day nephew. Benjamins clothing and popcorn ball designing mother (Jennifer Coolidge) is based on Hesss own mother, while many of the other characters in the film are based on people that Hess knows. All of that said, Gentlemen Broncos, though it aims for exactly the same places, failed to find the same cult audience as Napoleon Dynamite and received very mixed reviews.
The main problem with Gentlemen Broncos is an unlikeable lead in Michael Angarano. In everything that I have seen Angarano in, he has a weedy annoying presence. He is like the depressed and uncomfortably awkward kid who sticks out like a sore thumb at a social gathering. He made the worst hero in the entire history of martial arts cinema as the lead in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008). Jared Hess has wanted to create another nerd hero but there are poles of difference between Jon Heders gawky charm in Napoleon Dynamite and Michael Angaranos limpid non-presence here. This also brings us to the story. It is largely (and almost certainly quasi-biographical on the Hesss part in this regard) one of the travails found by a creative individual as they encounter problems of plagiarism and inept translation of ideas by others. However, Michael Angaranos presence makes this a singularly glum story. He traipses passively through as the Hesss heap one indignity after another on his shoulders. The result is not unakin to the characters in Coen Brothers films who are cruelly taunted and humiliated by the two brothers. You keep wishing that Angarano would stand up and do something rather than morosely slump through the story. The end contains a last minute flick of the deus ex machina plotting switch that allows Benjamin to gain his comeuppance, which feels exactly like an arbitrary insertion of a happy ending because it was required rather than anything that has ever been earned by the protagonist.
At least, the others in the cast balance out Michael Angaranos non-presence notably Jennifer Coolidge as Angaranos kooky mother and especially Jermaine Clements frequently sidesplitting (and show-stealing) role as Chevalier. Clement gets all the choice monologues and delivers them with a pompous gravitas that leaves one in titters. (Clement of course came to fame in the hit cable comedy series The Flight of the Conchords (2007-9), although with some irony his first leading role was in Taika Waititis film Eagle vs Shark (2007), which was accused by a number of reviewers of being a copy of Napoleon Dynamite (even though it wasnt). This cannot help but seem unconsciously ironic casting on Jared Hesss part, especially given that Gentleman Broncos theme is all about authors stealing others idea). The worst performance in the film comes from Hector Jimenez in what one presumes is meant as a caricature of a flamboyantly gay man where Jimenez seems determined to mime out his performance to the entire world via gymnastic contortions of his lips.
If anything, Gentlemen Broncos resembles something akin to a Wes Anderson film think of a smalltown version of The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) set among the working class poor crosshatched with Be Kind Rewind (2008). Jared Hess acknowledges a clear enjoyment of science-fiction and says the film contains many references to his favourite science-fiction films Jermaine Clements enunciation patterns are apparently based on Michael York in Logans Run (1976), for instance. Hess claims that The Yeast Lords is fairly much the story he conceived in his teens. This is seen filtered through different interpretations. We have the purebred version that Michael Angarano conceives, which comes as a cod cheesy space opera; there is the cheap no-budget sweded version made by Halley Feiffer and Hector Jimenez; and then Jermaine Clements rip-off version, which somehow turns the story into a gender-bending high camp variant with the characters in bad wigs. (There seems a constant subtext to all of the alternate versions about giving the story dubious gender-akilter interpretations). Some of the visions are oddly appealing Star Wars (1977)-type dogfights conducted by people flying on deer that have been armed with missiles and machine-guns; the bizarre image of Sam Rockwell bringing down one of the marauding deer with a stream of pink projectile vomit but the point of these constant variations on a bad science-fiction story seem to elude one.
Jared Hess next went onto direct Don Verdean (2015), a comedy about a Biblical scholar creating fake relics, and the heist comedy Masterminds (2015).
(Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Jermaine Clement) at this sites Best of 2009 Awards).