Gentlemen Broncos is one of those awesome sci-fi movies about science fiction that is simply overlooked. The trial of a young unknown author, the plagiarism of his greatest work, good vs. evil, battle stags and yeast wars; YUP. Struggling sci-fi writers, this is a movie dedicated to you.
Like other Hess films (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) Gentlemen Broncos is non-descript, with a weird worn out kitsch character treatment; and this one is really weird – like, weird in a way that will make you afraid to use hand cream.
But if like me, you have ever romanticized the life of a successful writer or struggled to write a story; if you’ve voraciously read yellow TOR paperbacks; if you remain obsessively loyal to the campy origins of sci fi, you’re probably going to love Gentlemen Broncos.
Starring Michael Angarano (Almost Famous) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Concords), Gentlemen Broncos probably offers one other familiar face, a Hess favourite Héctor Jiménez (Nacho Libre). Trust me though, every character is awesomely weird and wonderfully portrayed. The whole film has a stand out vibe helped by a killer soundtrack of classic psychedelic rock and great title credits to set the mood from the start.
Enter Benjamin (Angarano), a relative nobody who lives with his single mother and yearns to honour his dead father by writing a master science fiction novel. Pushed by his eccentric mother, he attends a writing camp to help his craft. He’s not particularly excited until he learns that his favourite author, Richard Chevalier (Clement), will be at the event. He is further inspired by Chevalier’s rousing welcome speech about his early success as a young author.
My favourite character, Chevalier quickly reveals himself to be a near-hack. And “as the author of Troll hole,” he doesn’t take kindly to being challenged. One lesson he does convey is the power of the suffix, which promises to ameliorate any humdrum character name by adding a simple suffix like ‘onious’ or ‘ainous’. It’s awesomely arrogant, and sadly accurate from some of the published work I’ve read.
Chevalier has a lot of feedback for young Benji, primarily critical. Which is especially ironic considering how much he comes to love Benji’s work. Chevalier is forced to help judge a contest for the camp, and stumbles upon Benji’s Yeast Lords among a slew of terrible submissions. Instantly drawn in, and desperate to deliver a new book to his publisher, Chevalier resolves himself to stealing the story for his own and begins to write his version, The Adventures of Brutus & Balzaak.
This sets up a framework for what I really appreciate about this movie; the transition between reality, the world of Benji’s version of Yeast Lords, and the alternate Chevalier Brutus & Balzaak. When the audience sees the story from the perspective of Benjamin or his friends, their mind’s eye opens to Bronco, a fierce, manly hero striving against evil. However when Chevalier gets his hands on it, we’re shown a bastardized version named Brutus, an effeminate and shallow protagonist. It’s a great way of showing how the author’s ideas (and intentions) directly impact the story being told.
The divergence of Benji’s original concept and Chevalier’s is furthered when local filmmaker Lonni (Jiménez) buys Yeast Lords for a movie adaptation. Like any adaptation, the movie takes great liberties with the storyline and characters; it perfectly demonstrates how an author feels when their ideas are raped and re-appropriated. In the lightest and funniest way possible, this movie is about coming to terms with the limits to creative propriety… but have no fear, the writer triumphs in the end!
When Benji finally sees the new Chevalier book, he is outraged and tries to confront the author at a signing but only ends up in jail. Just when everything seems bleak, his mother comes to the rescue… giving him the proof he needs to nail Chevalier, and in the process use the fiasco to get his own story published. I won’t give away too much of how it plays out, but it’s triumphant, magnificent, and fully delivers you from the ominious tone that the movie had taken.
And that’s why, struggling writers, this is a movie dedicated to us. When things look bleak and you’re not sure of yourself, always remember if some hack can do it, so can you. And in the world of science fiction, it can be hard to tell a hack from a genius. I find Gentlemen Broncos carries the hallmark of Hess movies; bringing you to a borderline sense of depression and apathy, but somehow depositing you in feelgoodsville. And no, I don’t expect I’ll ever get published using words like feelgoodsville… feelgoodsonious, maybe.