Thursday, September 08, 2011

All the Principal’s Geeks: Beware the Gonzo

By definition, nobody can be popular if they are despised by ninety-nine percent of the student body. Likewise, it is numerically impossible for that same one percent to bully the rest of the school—no teenagers are that industrious. Yet, it seems a lot of indie screenwriters were picked on during their high school years. At least Eddie “Gonzo” Gilman tries to stand-up for some wider principles in Bryan Goluboff’s social misfit wish fulfillment tale, Beware the Gonzo (trailer here), which opens in New York this Friday as part of the upcoming showcase of Tribeca distributed films.

Young Gilman wants to be the next Woodward or Bernstein. He ought to be looking to Matt Drudge for inspiration instead, but so be it. After being fired from the school newspaper by Gavin Reilly, a popular jock and administration suck-up (and not improperly so, given his hyperventilating prose), the Gonz follows the siren song of underground newspapers. Who amongst us hasn’t started one? Yet, his broadsheet catches on because of all their telling truth to power. As it turns out, his predictably geeky writers can dig up good dirt because nobody notices them.

With the addition of Evie Wallace, the reputed campus tramp out for revenge against her ex Reilly, the alternative paper is fully staffed. As a club kid, she is a natural gossip columnist. She also tells Gilman about this thing called the internet and supplies his first serious dose of sexual tension, while Reilly and the evil Principal Skinner-wannabe plot their counter-revolution.

In truth, Beware is considerably better than the thematically related Tribeca film, The Trotsky, in large measure because it does not idolize a mass murdering dictator. A low bar to clear perhaps, but Goluboff gets credits where it is due. In fact, his script wisely eschews a lot of hopey-changey politics, focusing on good old fashioned government corruption and abuse of power at the school level. Perhaps most refreshingly, it presents a young person forthrightly owning up to mistakes he has made and accepting the consequences.

As Gilman, Ezra Miller is a bit bland, but likable enough. Unfortunately, the film suffers from a wholly underwhelming villain. Your friendly neighborhood reviewer might be a rangy old goat compared to these prefabricated teenagers (many whom look like they were bought straight off the shelf at Ikea), but the weak-chinned white-bread Reilly is simply impossible to buy as the big bullying jock, utterly lacking any sense of menace.

Still, there are some engaging supporting turns found throughout Beware. Zoë Kravitz certainly displays a good measure of poise and screen presence as Wallace (which one might expect given she is the daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet). Some of the best, if creepiest, one-liners come from Stephanie Y. Hong playing the somewhat stereotypically intense Asian staffer. Campbell Scott also has some nice moments as Gilman’s patient father, but Amy Sedaris’s comedic talent is criminally wasted in the throwaway role of his nagging mother.

There is nothing really objectionable to Beware. In fact, it expresses a decent message about the importance of personal responsibility. Ultimately though, it simply is not all that memorable. Regardless, for those looking for a quick and painless high school fix, Beware opens a weeklong run tomorrow (9/9) in New York at the Tribeca Cinemas.