High school is the perfect breeding ground for all of your mixed metaphor and genre twists. Thanks to “Brick” and “Better Luck Tomorrow” we know noir can still shuffle the hallways, “Carrie” ramps up social anxiety to a psychic slaughter and “Clueless” proves even Shakespeare can shine through a hapless Valley Girl. Without further ado, let’s welcome “Beware The Gonzo” to this fun category when it comes to marrying the terse world of journalism to the equally unstable idea of raging hormones and social pecking order.
Eddie ‘Gonzo’ Gilman (Ezra Miller) is the school’s counter-culture prophet, the son of a radical lawyer (Campbell Scott) and a worrying mother/cameo (Amy Sedaris), that plans to expose the seedy underbelly of the ever-important world of high school life. Inevitably, Gonzo runs afoul of preppy school paper editor Gavin (Jesse McCartney) and decides to start his own paper–later convinced to make a web supplement by Evie (Zoé Kravitz) so the people can interact with them.
It’s hard to not like Bryan Goluboff’s first directorial effort, especially if you can still remember taking things like the high school paper so incredibly serious (nerd disclosure: I did the same thing.) Gonzo’s own shift is as subtle as puberty from his start as a shabby conspiracy theorist with loose ties (literally) that thinks there’s more to his high school than it seems. Being de facto leader of the assembled group of outcasts with an ear to the ground, he’s right; no one acknowledges the nerds, the girl with a neck brace or the Chinese girl who others assume she can’t understand English since she’s the sole Chinese girl at the school. From there he’s reborn as charismatic cult leader to expose the flaws of the popular kids while embracing the nerds (a full-page spread on “The Jimi Hendrix of The Triangle” anyone?)
“Gonzo” centers itself on the high school crowd’s own cultural influences—an unattributed quotation of Ernesto Zapata leads Gonzo to ask, “Did I just make that up,” before his father nonchalantly corrects him—and the interpretations taken from them, such as Gonzo’s acceptance of his new role after a rally, he adopts a fusion hairstyle of Hunter S. Thompson and Dustin Hoffman playing Carl Bernstein. It’s cute, by the numbers and self-serious enough that watching the implications of a wallflower being a gossip queen is darkly funny on a few levels. Even when Gonzo must inevitably pay for his words and actions, his first reaction is to Google “Famous Apologizes,” leading him to “famousapologies.com” featuring former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer and former President Bill Clinton. Whether or not these are subtle moments at meta-humor for today’s high school student or the easiest way out are up for your interpretation, dear reader.
But so much in Goluboff’s film seems to be forgotten in the final cut: why does one of Gavin’s friends seem overly excited to photograph him in a singlet and keep putting his arm around him? How does a relationship blossom between two of Gonzo’s nerdy crew after just two shots of awkward fidgeting? Does it matter?
Yes and no. The ability to split “Gonzo’s” reading is a dangerous one. You can see a fun high school story, or you can be a jaded media junkie and track your own progression with disillusionment and pouring over website statistics; Evie, after throwing a cold question onto their site, remarks with unusual joy: “We have seven hits!” If any webmaster or analytic analyst said that at a job, they’d be thrown out a window for showing the faint sign that was a positive.
So take the film’s advice: beware the gonzo, stay for the between-the-line readings and make sure to tip your journalist.