True visionaries are nearly always misunderstood and/or maligned. When 2001: A Space Odyssey was first released, it motivated many film critics at the time to unleash their most vitriolic prose in total condemnation of the film. They didn’t get it, and that made them livid.
Then, a year or so later, after the dust had settled, a lot of them actually went back and wrote another review. This is almost unheard of, but their opinions had changed so dramatically that they felt compelled to contradict their initial reactions. It is now, as you probably know, one of the most universally praised films in cinema’s history.
Gentlemen Broncos will not follow a similar path. A year from now, the critics who are now so furious will not do an about-face and praise this film. Some of them might, but I wouldn’t count on it. There’s a bandwagon, alright, and it’s not going to turn around like it did with Kubrick’s seminal film.
But even though this isn’t a landmark in cinema history, it is, I believe, the kind of film that, five or ten years from now, will be hailed as a cult-classic and a work of comic genius way ahead of its time. And, inevitably, tragically misunderstood and maligned by its contemporaries.
This is not Napoleon Dynamite, nor is it Nacho Libre. If you thought either or both of those films was strange or over-the-top, you were, in the context of what has now become the full body of Jared and Jerusha Hess’s work, wrong. And if you really loved either or both of those films, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will love Broncos.
Why? It’s gross. Really gross. The humor is doggedly juvenile and crass. You may have heard the words “projectile vomit” associated with this movie. Or maybe “snake poop.” Or “emasculation.” How about “boob jokes?” Check every box.
I need to make it clear that I typically hate this kind of thing. Sophomoric humor is often stupid, cheap, and plays to the lowest common denominator of adolescent males. But Broncos delivers it in a paradoxically effective way. In the very act of pushing these gags, it satirizes them. It satirizes everything, and that’s where the real humor lies. I wasn’t laughing because there was projectile vomit, I was laughing because it was so insanely employed. I wasn’t laughing because there were boob jokes, but because here is a 40-year-old bearded author of science fiction who is still obsessed with breasts.
So I’m reviewing this film, and I’ve managed to say almost nothing about it. I’m tempted to leave it that way, but here’s a bone, at least: It’s about a kid named Benjamin who lives with his single mother and has no friends. His passion is writing sci-fi and his hero is Dr. Ronald Chevalier, a famous sci-fi author who, at 15, published his first trilogy, called “Cyborg Harpies,” which featured high-minded concepts like mammary cannons. (Yep.)
The story unfolds as Dr. Chevalier steals Benjamin’s work and publishes it as his own. And there’s further complication when a couple of local hack-filmmakers “buy” the rights to Benjamin’s work and make it into a singularly bad movie.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about the whole thing is that the story actually works. Michael Angarano (of Forbidden Kingdom and Sky High) plays Benjamin perfectly, and he manages to come across as the only “normal” character in this uncomfortably strange little world.
But that’s not to say that anyone is really hamming it up, so to speak. We find ourselves in the midst of weirdos and crazy people who all take themselves very seriously. The way it all fits together helps the audience to truly invest in Benjamin’s plight and, as a result, the narrative ends up being extremely satisfying.
There are too many things I want to say here. Like that Sam Rockwell is my new hero. Or how sublimely funny Jennifer Coolidge is. And that Jemaine Clement breaks totally out of Flight of the Conchords to deliver a performance of unrelenting genius. And that’s just the acting. The design of the film, the stuff that comprises the world in which this all takes place… It’s not just that I loved it all, it’s that I can’t wait to see it again and again.
Instead of going on forever, I’ll just say go see this movie. If you end up hating it, so what? You’ve hated other movies and survived. But if you ignore the critics, I don’t think you will hate it. I think you’ll kind of like it. And then as time passes, you might even realize that it was actually pretty awesome. So don’t go read a lot of negative reviews before you go, because bitterness is contagious. And so are closed minds.
If you do see it (or have already seen it), please share your thoughts below.
Jordan Petersen is a film correspondent for Rhombus.
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