The film begins as homeschooled outcast Benjamin (sweetly underplayed by Michael Angarano) leaves his protective mother (Jennifer Coolidge) to attend a writers retreat. There he meets his idol, sci-fi author Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), who goes on to steal Benjamin's entire book and claim it as his own. At the same time, Benjamin is having his story incompetently adapted into a movie by a strange pair he meets at the retreat, Tabitha (Halley Feiffer) and Lonnie (Héctor Jiménez). On top of all this, the audience glimpses how Benjamin and Chevalier each imagine the story playing, with Sam Rockwell starring as the leading man. Why the special effects and sets are so cheap when they have their entire imaginations at their disposal is beyond explanation.
The actors do their best to make sense of this forced whimsy. Clement is hilarious in all his scenes as the egotistical writer with a Bluetooth permanently wedged in his ear—one which he never uses. Feiffer is sweetly reminiscent of a young Joey Lauren Adams in a role that makes no sense; she's terrible to Benjamin, yet we're supposed to root for them to get together. Coolidge works to bring dignity to a role that is there solely for the audience to mock: We know Benjamin's mother is a little crazy, you see, because she doesn't know how much money to give him for the weekend and she lives in a geodesic dome and has the audacity to dream of designing horrible clothes. Stuck in caricatures are Jimenez, who sports a ridiculous accent and facial expression for no reason, and Mike White in a long wig as Benjamin's would-be mentor. Rockwell seems game for anything, but as written and staged, his scenes are painfully unfunny.
Hess' previous films, including his sophomore feature "Nacho Libre," showed an understanding for the worlds he created and the people in them. It says something that the most likable character in "Gentlemen Broncos" is Chevalier, the guy we're supposed to hate.
Written by: Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess.
Directed by: Jared Hess.
Cast: Michael Angarano, Jennifer Coolidge, Jemaine Clement, Mike White, Héctor Jiménez, Halley Feiffer, Sam Rockwell.