Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival
"After all I did," Eddie "Gonzo" Gilman confesses, at the beginning of Beware the Gonzo, "I probably got off easy." He tells the camera this in a videotaped confession/apology; we then circle back to the beginning of the story, to find out exactly what it was he did. "Gonzo" (Ezra Miller) has taken on the moniker of Hunter S.Thompson; he's a hilariously intense writer for the school newspaper, but he gets thrown off of it early in his senior year by the smug editor and BMOC, Gavin Reilly (Jesse McCartney). Gonzo decides that he will not be silenced, so he and his misfit friends decide to launch an underground paper, with one primary goal: "We're going to piss a lot of people off." They accomplish their mission.
Beware the Gonzo is the directorial debut of Bryan Goluboff; his primary previous credit of note was for the screenplay adaptation of The Basketball Diaries. His script for this film is smart and connected, with a real authenticity--I'm not sure if this is what high school is like now, but this is a lot like I remember it. It's not just that the school is ruled by the rich preppie jocks (though it is), but that everyone else is invisible, forgotten, unnoticed. When the paper begins, Gonzo aims to make them visible again. But the main focus of the venture ends up being him.
Gonzo takes himself with absolute solemnity; sitting at his computer, an All the President's Men poster on the wall behind him, chugging Red Bulls and pounding out his angry screeds, he's every high school intellectual who ever carried around a dog-eared copy of The Great Shark Hunt. Miller taps into that dogged determination. He's got a focused, lanky, angular presence (kind of like a less obnoxious Justin Long), and he's plenty versatile as well--it took me the first fifteen minutes of the film to realize he was the same actor I saw playing a gay teen just a few days earlier in Every Day.
Gonzo's primary ally on the paper is Evie (Zoe Kravitz), the bad-rep girl with an axe to grind. Kravitz, the offspring of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet, made an impression a couple months back in The Greatest, but this is a better showcase for her talents--she's genuinely gifted, charismatic and funny (and a knockout, no surprise considering her lineage). McCartney, who I guess is some kind of a teen recording artist (god, I'm old) is properly smarmy and punchable; he's a rich punk villain in the grand William Zabka tradition. Campbell Scott and Amy Sedaris don't get nearly enough scenes as Gonzo's parents, but they make the best of them--Scott with his arid dry wit, Sedaris right up on the edge of crazy.
Beware the Gonzo suffers somewhat in comparison with The Trotsky, another Tribeca film about a politically conscious teen battling apathy and the powers-that-be at a high school level; it doesn't have that film's pointedly intellectual wit. But it also has a stronger third act, in which Gonzo is brought down by his out-of-control ego, and goes too far to cling to his celebrity and relevance. Goluboff sails towards some fairly predictable plot points, and some of the writing towards the end gets a little sappy. But likability counts for a lot here, and while Beware the Gonzo may not be the best film I've seen at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, it's one of the more charming ones.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.