Beware the Gonzo Dir. Bryan Goluboff

[Tribeca Films; 2010]

Styles: comedy/teen
Others: Mean Girls, Easy A, Anything John Hughes

If you’ve seen a lot of movies centered around high school, you probably expect that new ones will either paint an incisive, gut-wrenching, and/or accurately hilarious portrait of teenage growing pains (Kids, Election, Freaks and Geeks — yes, I know it’s TV, but it’s amazing) or a laughably inaccurate, overblown, and/or trite-yet-fantastical portrayal of teen life that makes you ask, “Did the person who wrote this ever actually attend high school?” (She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, O — what is it with the 90s adaptations?) But every so often, you come across a high school movie that awkwardly blends the two, combining occasional accuracy with absolute twaddle. Instead of creating a mediocre hybrid, the result is more like trying to cover up BO with perfume: it doesn’t work and just confuses and annoys everyone. Beware the Gonzo is one such misguided concoction.

The Gonzo to beware is Eddie “Gonzo” Gilman (Ezra Miller), who seems to be doing his best Johnny Depp impression for most of the film. Gonzo is a pretty-boy misfit-on-principle high school senior — kind of like a dorkier James Dean — who loses the coveted editorship of his New York private school’s newspaper to obnoxious golden boy asshole Gavin Reilly (a well-cast Jesse McCartney — yup, that Jesse McCartney — who is not quite James Spader in Pretty in Pink but who does succeed at making you want to punch him in the face). Bitter but not giving up, Eddie submits an opus on school bullying for the first issue’s front page article. The article is, of course, cut down to one ineffectual line by Gavin, who has friends in bullying — apparently the student newspaper has no faculty adviser. Eddie decides to spearhead his own maverick publication that focuses on grittier issues than sports victories and academic calendars, and becomes The Gonzo with the help of a band of his actual-misfit friends and one hot chick, Evie Wallace (Zoe Bonet). The all-out war for journalistic supremacy that results is a weird mix of impossible stunts, blatant ripoffs of other high school movies (see: Mean Girls), and contradictory moralizing.

One of the highlights of this weird mix is Gonzo and Evie breaking undetected into the school cafeteria, which is for some reason unlocked and accessible at night, to do an exposé on the quality of campus lunches. Barely touching what is a very real issue in schools today, namely the capitalistic farce that is school lunch “nutrition,” they instead find an appalling rat infestation to uncover, making us wonder why the movie even bothered approaching Actual Controversy territory in the first place. There is a long list of such pointless blunders, but perhaps the two most exasperating are: (1) Giving Gavin a “You Have No Idea How Much Pressure I’m Under” speech that’s about one shattered window away from being straight out of The Breakfast Club, and (2) Putting Amy Sedaris in a movie and not letting her be funny. Yeah, Amy Sedaris is in this movie! She’s Gonzo’s grumpy mom, but she has no jokes. Instead, she just warns him against doing anything but toeing the line at school and plays counterbalance to Gonzo’s dad (Campbell Scott), whose only parenting concern is that his son have “an interesting life,” and, like, stick it to the man, or something.

I mentioned occasional accuracy. I, too, was a newspaper dork in high school, and I have to admit that Gonzo’s character reminds me of a few of the guys who worked on the paper. His hubris and self-satisfaction, and the way his peers all buy into it, are really obnoxious, but then, that’s how privileged teenagers sometimes are. It’s also pretty basic teenage nonsense to hold glaring double standards about acceptable conduct and to excuse yourself for the hand you’ve played in things while condemning someone else for behavior that’s really no worse, so it’s not a mistake for Beware the Gonzo to show its teens falling into those traps. What is a mistake, though, is for the movie to fall right into those same traps along with its characters. It just feels kind of, um, juvenile.

Most Read