"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. (Settle down--this was made before Easy A). "Gonzo" Gillman (Ezra Miller) has taken on the moniker of Hunter S.Thompson; he's a hilariously intense writer for the school newspaper, with an eye on Columbia (slight script issue: no undergraduate journalism program at Columbia). But he gets thrown off the paper 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. However, 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. This film predates his work in We Need to Talk About Kevin (his early scenes, when the character is slightly unhinged, almost play like a comic, Rosencrantz & Gildenstern are Dead-style sideways view of that film), but Gonzo already shows him as an actor of uncommon intensity and skill.
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, later popped up in X-Men: First Class, but this is a better showcase for her talents--she's genuinely gifted, charismatic and funny (and a knockout, which is no surprise considering her lineage). McCartney, who I guess is some kind of a teen recording artist (maybe?) is properly smarmy and punchable; he's a rich punk villain in the grand William Zabka tradition. Campbell Scott and Amy Sedaris, on the other hand, don't get nearly enough to do as Gonzo's parents.
Video & Audio:
The anamorphic widescreen image is unspectacular but solid--it's a bit grubby in spots, though it gets the job done. The 5.1 surround mix is set a bit too low (I had to crank it louder than usual), but the immersion is fairly good, with clinking silverware in diner scenes and fine placement during a band sequence. Dialogue is clean as well, though there is some light distortion from the cheering crowd at the big "Free Gonzo" rally.
The disc also comes with a 2.0 stereo mix, but no subtitles.
Plaster-their-brand-on-any-possible-surface Tribeca "presenting sponsor" American Express presents "An Interview with the Beware the Gonzo Team" (3:52), fairly standard EPK-style look at the film. The seven "Outtakes and Extended Scenes" (17:07 total) are a mixed bag--the deleted/extended scenes are mostly enjoyable (more Campbell Scott and Judah Friedlander, hooray), but the outtakes are pretty tiresome.
When I first saw Beware the Gonzo at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, it struck me as an agreeable high school comedy with a pronounced Pump Up the Volume vibe. A return viewing nearly two years later still finds the performances strong--Miller and Kravitz continue to impress--and the feel spot-on, but there are some real problems in the third act: what Gavin does to Evie would not (and should not) go unpunished, which is a major plot glitch, while the final beat with "Horny" Rob (Griffin Newman) is not only creepy on its own, but startlingly incongruent with the Gavin/Evie turn. The closing scenes open up more questions than a picture this lightweight can answer, and that's unfortunate, particularly because there's so much charm and playfulness elsewhere.
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.