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Non-Review Review: Gentlemen Broncos

I’m going to be a bit of killer jo here and admit that I didn’t really “get” Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, so it’s no surprise that the latest movie from the creative team leaves me cold. That sort of overly understated sense of humour feels a bit old at this stage, as if we’ve seen it once too often. There’s a sense that the movie somehow recognises this, and decided to augment those awkward silences with incredibly gross and juvenile humour.

Grabbing the stag by the horns...

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude. I can appreciate juvenile and pointless sexual and bathroom-related humour when done well – I have a soft spot for MacGruber, after all. However, here it all just seems a bit… well, meh. As if huge volumes of pink projectile vomit are supposed to be inherently fun, or that there’s just something completely hilarious about two characters kissing while one is covered in vomit. At one point, for absolutely no reason, we are subjected to a snake suffering from diarrhea – because that’s amusing, right?

More than that, the film is focused on the kind of sexual references which make schoolboys giggle to themselves. A plagiarised science-fiction novel is named “Brutus and Balzaak.” See, it sounds like “ball sack”? Geddit? Indeed, at one point our poor hapless lead is forced to sell pairs of snack food balls in a two-for-one offer. Yes, they are sold in a sack, why do you ask? In any situation, this sort of humour would wear out its welcome particularly quickly, but here it just seems mean-spirited.

Book him, boys...

Gentlemen Broncos is set against the backdrop of a young fantasy writer. As if those interested in fantasy didn’t have enough stereotypes to worry about, the film takes great pleasure in making fun of the “stunted sexual development” stereotype – male characters in the novel fear castration, eat “yeast cakes” and focus incessantly on the breasts of female characters. Here’s the thing though, if you’re going to make a movie about a particular subculture, where we’re rooting for the lead, it’s perhaps best not to deal in the most reductive stereotypes possible.

Particularly since we’re led to believe that the film’s lead character, a teenager whose family is on verge of poverty and who is taken advantage of by everyone and anyone, is a nice guy – and somebody doing something he genuinely enjoys doing. He’s meant to be the hero, and is – by most accounts – the most well-rounded member of the cast. And yet the movie implies that he’s somewhat sexually under-developed simply because his hobbies include writing fantasy.

This is a rocky entry on Sam's filmography...

This is a shame, because it somewhat undermines some nice ideas the movie has. This young idealist is juxtaposed against an established science-fiction writer, who decides to steal his idea. The kid asks the author for advice about how to deal with a movie adaptation which isn’t staying true to his vision, and the author responds, “Cash that cheque as soon as possible and enjoy the money! I mean, isn’t that why we do what we do?” The clear implication is that it isn’t why our lead writes. He writes because he enjoys it, because he loves it. That would almost be a touching moral, if the movie wasn’t so intently focused on illustrating just how messed up the kid’s sexual identity was – because it’s fantasy, right?

That one little theme running through the movie is perhaps the best thing about this feature. Well, not really. The best thing about this feature is Jemaine  Clement, who plays established writer Ronald Chevalier. Chevalier speaks with the most pretentious faux British accent and presents himself as an authority on everything. “Wow,” a fan reacts to one of his ‘insights’, and Chevalier replies, commenting on his own brilliance, “I know.” It’s a nice performance, but the fact is that Clement is searching really hard for any humour in the material he’s been given… and he can’t really find any.

The acclaimed sequel to How To Train Your Dragon, How To Name Your Troll...

There are odd moments of synergy, where Clement and the script seem in step. I love, for instance, the one scene where Clement is giving a class on the right way to name characters in fantasy. It’s a nice moment which illustrates everything that’s wrong with the character, while doing it in a clever and funny manner, as he lectures with authority on “the power of the suffix” and the importance of make troll names “believable.” It underscores perfectly the fact that there’s no “right way” for a person to be creative, and demonstrates how taking a hobby far too seriously can ultimately kill it.

Unfortunately, the fact that I can only point to one scene that works in such a way is an illustration of how damaged the movie is. it just sort of plods along while things – not funny things, just things – sorta happen. Sometimes those things are gross. Sometimes those things are neither gross nor funny. Sometimes they are just pointless. Sometimes they make you wonder if the writers have more than a handful of stock characters they use to pad out the supporting cast of the movie they are making.

Take it as read, it's not very good...

Intercut with this story are scenes from the two drafts of the novel, each starring Sam Rockwell. They’re just… well, they’re just there. They are stupid and silly, but not in an amusing way. Again, it’s a host of juvenile jokes about how uncomfortable fantasy writers seem to be with sex – as we watch him sew his scrotum back on and fight one-eyed monsters. It’s a one-note joke which just eats into the movie’s screentime.

Gentlemen Broncos really should have been a good movie. Unfortunately, it is not. There really isn’t anything more to say on the matter.

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