With only three directing jobs under his belt now, Jared Hess, working with his wife, screenwriter Jerusha Hess, has managed to make three very separately unique films even if instantly recognizable to the viewer. Bursting onto the scene in 2004 with the indie darling Napoleon Dynamite, he managed to make lovable losers a household name. After that exploded, he moved on to working with another friend he made along the way (Jack Black) and popped out Nacho Libre.
Many thought that Nacho Libre was more of the same with a bigger name in the title role, which it kind of was. But when you have a formula that works, why fix what’s not broken? Another friend made along the way is Mike White. This is the man responsible for something you should seek out and treat yourself to immediately, the canceled-too-soon TV show Freaks & Geeks. Most of that show’s brilliance has been credited to now-Hollywood hotshot Judd Apatow but he was only one of the show’s producers, as was White.
Jemaine Clement is now well known as half of one of my favorite folk duo, Flight of the Conchords. Yes, they do have their TV show on HBO but they’ve been together since long before that premiered. He’s been in a few independent films and that’s probably where he’s made friends with the Hesses along the years. This man can make the driest line or off-the-cuff remark as hysterical as anyone who’s been working in Hollywood their entire lives. If you’ve never seen The Flight of the Conchords or heard one of their albums, I suggest doing so as soon as possible.
In the newest Hess venture, Gentlemen Broncos, we meet young Benjamin (Michael Angarano, last seen in Forbidden Kingdom) whom lives with his mother, Judith (played to the quirky hilt by the always reliable Jennifer Coolidge, best known as Stifler’s mom), in a dome house in the fictional town of Salt Air, Utah. Benjamin is an aspiring science fiction writer whose novels normally wind up making his mother cry or ill.
While at Cletus Fest, a writer’s camp, for the weekend, Benjamin is very excited to meet and learn from his greatest idol, Dr. Ronald Chevalier (played wickedly clueless by Clement). In a class Chevalier is teaching he quickly manages to burst Benjamin’s idol-worship bubble after offering up the worst protagonist names in literary history and putting down everyone in the class. While at the camp he hesitantly allows Tabatha to read one of his novels, Yeast Lords.
After an upsetting call from his editor, Chevalier is informed that his latest manuscript is of no use and cannot be published. Devastated, Chevalier ransacks his own hotel room only to discover what he thinks will be the greatest science fiction masterpiece ever. But not without a little help from a quick rewrite, of course. Somehow making the main character particularly flamboyant and blowing everything up to outrageous proportions now makes the manuscript ready for print.
Without knowing that Chevalier has stolen his entire idea, Benjamin is offered a movie deal from a local production company run by Lonnie Donaho (Nacho Libre’s rubbery-faced Hector Jimenez). The “studio” is so small that Benjamin has to use costumes stolen from his mother and huge plot points and characters are changed to keep the costs within their means. This of course spells big trouble for anything coherent reaching the big screen.
Once the film is made and a local screening is held, Benjamin loses his lunch over the final product and storms out of the theater which leads him to a local bookstore where he discovers Chevalier’s latest bestseller, The Chronicles of Brutus and Balzaak. With Tabatha by his side and Lonnie sucking up local success in the media, Benjamin sets out to reap revenge and take back what’s rightfully his.
All of the excerpts from the book that the film’s characters read are played out on-screen in over-the-top fashion with everything from testicles in jars, Cyclops, and surveillance does, to the funniest case of projectile vomiting in a long time. The novel’s protagonist is played with manic glee by another indie favorite, Sam Rockwell. The things the Hesses managed to get him to do for the sake of their own script are pretty far out there at times.
Some may call the humor in this film Utah/Idaho-based. Well, that could very well be but if you’ve seen either Napoleon Dynamite or Nacho Libre then you definitely know whether you’re going to enjoy this or not. Napoleon Dynamite has definitely found its own pop culture niche and this film falls somewhere comfortably in between the two. But if you’re in the mood for something as dry as Utah’s own Salt Flats or maybe just something that refuses to settle within the confines of typical Hollywood comedies then boy, have the Hesses got a show for you.
Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight