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January 27, 2012

Movies You Missed 23: Beware the Gonzo

GonzoThis week in movies you missed: Tilda Swinton's psycho kid from We Need to Talk About Kevin acts out in less antisocial ways. He tries to save the future of print journalism!

What You Missed

Actually, teen actor Ezra Miller (pictured) made Beware the Gonzo well before he played the title character in Kevin. But no one who viewed the latter film can ever see Miller in a high school without expecting him to pull out a weapon and cause mayhem. Though Kevin wasn't a particularly well-thought-out character — he was basically just evil — his sociopathic glower was memorable.

But we can discuss that if Kevin becomes a Movie You Missed (it's stayed clear of Vermont so far). Suffice it to say that in this little indie, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, Miller plays a nicer kid.

He's Eddie "Gonzo" Gilman, a nerdy senior at Parker Prep with aspirations to being the next Woodward or Bernstein. But Parker's newspaper is under the editorial thumb of Gavin Reilly (Jesse McCartney), a sneering blond wrestler who refuses to let Gonzo chase the meaty stories that interest him. Meanwhile, Reilly's jock buddies bully Gonzo's friends with impunity, and the principal (James Urbaniak) couldn't care less.

So Gonzo starts a blog and fills it with the school's outrages, right? And he draws the attention of the national anti-bullying campaigners, and he's such an effective muckraker that he ends up skipping college and running his very own media outlet?

Well, no. While set in the present, Beware the Gonzo is based on the high school experiences of writer-director Bryan Goluboff, which apparently were meatspace-confined. Gonzo prints his scandal sheet on paper, like a '90s-era zine, and dumps it in school hallways. He has no interest in computers and relies on the mysterious hot girl who joins his staff (Zoë Kravitz) to make him a website.

YouTube videos eventually figure in the plot, but it's old-school journalism that causes the commotion when Gonzo's scoops — which range from genuine reporting on food-safety violations to gossipy smear jobs on popular kids — get him in trouble with the Powers That Be.

Why You Missed It

I'm not sure if this was even released beyond its film-fest run.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Were it not for a little swearing and sex talk, Beware the Gonzo would be perfectly suited for the Disney Channel or ABC Family. Aside from a few fun elements, it's a high school movie that would have seemed tired even in the '80s.

Consider the differences between Gonzo and the similarly themed Pump Up the Volume (1990). In the latter film, high school outsider Christian Slater runs a pirate radio station. His antics, which include simulated on-air masturbation, inciting his fellow students to acts of violence, and exposing his school's illegal practice of expelling underperforming kids, eventually get him handcuffed by the FCC.

In Gonzo, Gonzo's biggest exposé involves finding rats in the school food stores. The worst punishment with which he's threatened is suspension. It may be a more plausible story than Pump Up the Volume, but it's way less fun — and it doesn't have Leonard Cohen on the soundtrack.

Gonzo has been conceived as the world's most generic, inoffensive rebel, and the fine actors who surround him — including Amy Sedaris and Campbell Scott as his parents — are mostly wasted, too.

A few minor characters contribute actual comedy. Judah Friedlander does a nice turn as a cafeteria guy, and I enjoyed Griffin Newman as "Horny" Rob Becker, a pencil-necked geek who keeps a "harem" of physically imperfect girls whose hot qualities only he is perceptive (or horny) enough to see. It's a borderline-offensive joke, but it would fit right into Sixteen Candles or a "Savage" Steve Holland movie.

Really, I think Horny Rob and the malicious little gossip Ming Na (Stefanie Y. Wong), who gets all the dirt because popular girls assume she doesn't speak English, should have had their own movie. They're real outsiders, and their character arcs would have been a lot more compelling than Gonzo's. (He learns ... that his actions have consequences!)

Verdict: If the future of high school movies looks anything like this flick that screened at Sundance last week, Gonzo occupies a far more innocent past. Too bad it's also a duller one.

Other New DVD Releases You May Have Missed

  • 50/50
  • I'm Glad My Mother Is Alive (French drama about a troubled teen who connects with his birth mother)
  • I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (Korean cult movie about a disturbed girl, from the director of Oldboy)
  • The Lie (Joshua Leonard's directorial debut. A commenter on one of my previous posts saw this at a fest and recommended it...)
  • Restless (Dying Mia Wasikowska falls whimsically in love with Dennis Hopper's son. Gus Van Sant gets no award nominations.)
  • The Whistleblower (Rachel Weisz investigates human trafficking)

Each week I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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