Look at the Sad People and How Silly They Are
What bugged me about Jared Hess's first film, Napolean Dynamite, is the way it made fun of its subject without adding anything else to it. In Hess's second movie, Nacho Libre, he tempered his tendency to ridicule by making his main character easier to sympathize with. However, in Gentlemen Broncos he's stepped back into just making fun of these poor weirdos and anything they hope to accomplish.
One gets the feeling the reins have been loosened on the director, as not only are the movie's characters blissfully unaware they are easy to laugh at, even their creative endeavors are made ripe for mockery, from the protagonist, an introverted teen named Benjamin (Michael Angarano) and his science fiction stories (played out as a movie-within-a-movie on the screen) to his mother (Jennifer Coolidge) and her self-designed line of clothing. The supposed sweet side here is that some of these creations are marked for success within the world of the movie, but out here, in the audience, we're still ultimately asked to laugh at their absurdity. This also tempers the movie's most-potential-filled theme -- that creative works are precious to the creators, no matter how bad they actually are.
The film is about a successful sci-fi author (Jemaine Clement, genuinely funny playing his part) stealing Benjamin's story for his next book; meanwhile, sub-plots abound regarding various ways in which the works of various artists are disrespected. In the end, however, we're meant to see that the art was bad and worth having some laughs at. Is Hess sympathizing with bad artists and showing a soft spot for bad art? He makes the best case for this with his own bad movie, which contains pathetic, pitiless caricatures of characters and a weird predilection for gross-out jokes.
It's possible Hess thinks he's sticking up for these little guys, their little dreams, and their limited potential, but his depiction of them comes across as simply too mean spirited. You can't root for them while laughing at the work they hold dear -- it just doesn't go both ways.
(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated "PG-13" for some crude humor.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.