Tag Archives: Jared and Jerusha Hess

Gentlemen Broncos

You’d think this Hess film would be a passing fad in my life, but instead it’s become the film that I must watch once a year. From the beginning credits, you’ll see what the Hesses appreciate: traditional sci fi … or at the very least, pulp sci fi covers. There is a glorious rolling out of these covers as the credits roll, set against the Zager and Evans’ song “In the Year 2525”.

The first scene in the film sets up the hopeful heart of a geek: Benjamin Purvis is a homeschooled teenager, whose father died at some point in his youth. His father is the image of masculinity, a Forest Service ranger with a bushy beard. In his honor, Benjamin has written a completed sci fi novel, which he is ready to turn into a contest at the Cletus Fest, adjudicated by a famous sci fi novelist whom Benjamin admires.

From there, it dawns on the audience that the entire world is set against a young man with a masculine vision succeeding in the world. His mother, played by Jennifer Coolidge, is well-meaning, but doesn’t understand her son. The homeschool group is populated by domineering girls and sexually obscure boys (represented by the characters Tabatha and Lonnie respectively). The famous sci fi novelist Benjamin admires turns out to be a creepy washed-out writer with an overbearing ego (Dr. Ronald Chevalier, played by Jemaine Clement). As Benjamin’s novel gets out into the world, it’s corrupted by a couple of amateur filmmakers (also Tabatha and Lonnie) and plagiarized by Chevalier.

While Tabatha and Lonnie are busy sexualizing the story by means of Lonnie dressed up in drag, Chevalier has flipped Benjie’s main character from a masculine guy like his father, complete with beard, into a trannie with Marilyn Monroe blond hair and a pink outfit. The film is studded with B-movie sci-fi scenes, which serve to demonstrate the destruction of Benjamin’s innocent and hopeful vision.

Benjamin is, of course, vindicated and his vision restored in the end, but it’s only after he gets angry enough to go rogue, defending his mom against a perv and confronting Chevalier face-to-face. In other words, he has to wake up from his innocent childhood where his single mom has always protected him and become a man — a masculine man, like his father.

There are a few really gross scenes in this film, with characters vomiting, etc. It has the same kind of zany adolescent-boy style humor you’ll find in all Hess films. Some people can’t handle that. Some can’t handle the absurdity of the B-movie scenes. But if you can handle all that, I recommend this film. It’s heart-warming to see a boy whose vision has been completely skewed and misunderstood stick to his principles anyway and become a bestselling author. You can see why this film might be crack for me, despite that I’m a female author not exactly fighting for my masculine vision. Rather, it appeals to my desire to be understood and successful while maintaining my standards.

In addition to all of the above — the geek sci-fi homeschool and writing world, the great comedians (I mentioned Jennifer Coolidge and Jemaine Clement, but it also has Mike White and Sam Rockwell) — the soundtrack is amazing. No, it really is. It has songs by Ray Lynch, Scorpions, Buck Owens, etc. There’s no scene quite as amazing to me as the one when Benjamin steps out of the bank after he realizes the check the filmmakers cut for him is dated for a distant point in the future, and he catches the film parade of the cross-dressing Lonnie slapping a fake deer rump in slow motion to Wind of Change. Now you’re beginning to understand why I like it so much. The only video I could find of said scene is posted below (there are two spots where there’s German overdubbing, oh well):

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Don Verdean

Sometimes I’m surprised at what audiences discard as unworthy. I don’t understand people. There, I admitted it. I don’t connect well with other human beings, and this includes my taste in films. This film is unusual, but not in the outlandish way of, say, Nacho Libre. But like other Hess films, its humor is good-hearted and entirely lacks postmodern cynicism.

At first, it appears to be a film mocking evangelical Christians, of the variety that believes wholeheartedly in dubious archaeological biblical artefacts because they need to see or feel physical evidence. They’ve been bitten by the empirical bug, and like their classic lefty counterparts, will go as far as trumping up the evidence — if need be — because the end justifies the means. And often somewhere in the process, they forget that the evidence was trumped up in the first place and begin to believe in their own stories.

It’s difficult to tell whether the main character, Don Verdean believes in his fake artefacts or even whether he believes they would lead to the greater good of spreading the gospel. Perhaps what he really wants is to be admired, a man of God whom other men follow. Of course, there are also riches at stake: a pastor willing to pay him big bucks to unearth an archaeological treasure bigger than the pillar of salt known as Lot’s wife (which turns out not to be due to…masculine anatomy): Goliath’s skull. Played by Sam Rockwell, Don’s character is too impassive to easily pin down. His sidekick, Jemaine Clement’s Boaz, gives the audience better insight into the kind of soul Don Verdean really has: a skeevy, cheating one. While it’s clear Boaz’s motive is money and Don’s is muddled up in promoting a narrative, they are flipsides to the same coin. The third element to Don’s psychology is the loyal female assistant (Amy Ryan). Her belief in Don and his archaeological finds is unwavering; she is truly gullible, possessing of a pure faith that is, of course, shattered at the end of the film. But Don’s likewise devotion to her gives an indication that Don, himself, had once possessed her type of faith.

It’s obvious by reading some of the negative reviews of this film that the critics hated it for the very reason I liked it — the comedy doesn’t delve into the dark regions it could. In the Hess universe, Clement always plays a thoroughly repulsive bad guy, albeit one where his worst proclivities are offscreen. For example, we see that Verdean is willing to pimp his assistant to Boaz in exchange for his silence on the fake artefact, but their “date” is awkward more than it is revolting.

The comedy is also deadpan, tongue-in-cheek, and softened by good characterization. This is a character-driven movie. Therefore, the audience (or this audience) is able to sympathize with Don as he ultimately faces prison time. Critics can be incredibly world-weary people. They’ve seen everything on screen, and many of them have no love for Christianity. They want obvious laughs and obvious stereotypes of despicable Christians. And that brings me to my favorite part of the film. Don Verdean isn’t completely lost; he isn’t the fool critics prefer. Instead, he finds redemption, and it is beautiful and unexpected. It’s the type of redemption that comes in the form of God “working all things together for good for those that love him and are called to his purpose”.

This is a 2015 film, not new, and I would like to give away the ending, but I’m not going to do that. It’s lovely. Go watch it for yourself. Maybe you’ll like it as much as I did.

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