Beware the Gonzo (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
It has always been Eddie’s (Ezra Miller) dream to attend Columbia University. In order for him to have a chance of even being considered, he needs an extracurricular activity on his transcript. It is the beginning of senior year and Gavin (Jesse McCartney), the editor of the school paper, is handing out assignments for the first issue. Eddie wants to write about something extreme like the unhappiness of the students in their prep school, but Gavin simply wants a nice “Welcome back!” message. Eddie insists that fire is what the newspaper needs. Due to his insubordination, Eddie is kicked out of the paper. Passionate about writing and telling his readers the truth, he decides to team up with fellow outcasts (Edward Gelbinovich, Griffin Newman, Stefanie Y. Hong) to create “The Gonzo Files,” an underground newspaper that functions as direct competition to Gavin’s “The Courier.”
Written and directed by Bryan Goluboff, “Beware the Gonzo” starts off as a sharp and witty satire about high school students, faculties, and the bureaucracies that shape the frustration and desperation within a social ecosystem. There is a sense of excitement as the characters clandestinely hold meetings in a local diner, discuss the newspaper’s purposes, and how it should look. With the help of Elvie (Zoë Kravitz), a girl with a reputation of being wanton, they are able to create a website as a supplement to the paper. Meanwhile, Eddie takes on the role of the leader.
As the success of their project spread around the school like wildfire, the picture reaches a creative zenith. The reactions of the students that are featured, directly through pictures or indirectly through text, are absolutely hilarious to watch. The videos posted on the website push the revelations that much further. We can almost feel the students’ insecurities leaking through their pores. With such polemical issues brought up by the paper, the majority compliment Eddie and his team for their boldness and honesty while some are, to say the least, threatened.
This is the point where the material should have gone for the jugular. Instead of going for the easy romance between Eddie and Evie, which, by the way, softens the satirical jab, why not explore Gavin’s reaction to his rival’s success? While Gavin is eventually given the chance to express how he really feels, it is pushed toward the back half of the movie. There is no good reason for this. It is most inopportune because not only is Gavin’s delayed reaction unrealistic, it obstructs the film’s brisk pacing.
The writer-director’s decision to sandwich the romance between the release of the paper and Gavin’s desperation to come out on top is to actively look away from serious issues like bullying, plagiarism, and apathy. Also, I would like to have seen more of Eddie’s parents (Campbell Scott, Amy Sedaris). The father seems to understand what his son is fighting for, while the mother focuses on her son getting into college. For the latter, if it means being a harpy while at the dinner table so that Eddie will understand her point of view, then so be it. I enjoyed their scenes because I know a lot of parents like Eddie’s mom, some exponentially scarier. Thankfully, my parents are more like Eddie’s dad: understanding but assertive.
“Beware the Gonzo” shows wit and intelligence when it focuses on the satire. However, when it turns its attention to the unnecessary romance, it feels forced and second rate.