Someone should have told director Bryan Goluboff that indie filmmakers are supposed to make “serious” pictures and not derivative and fun high-school comedies. Alas, maybe next time.
Mr. Goluboff’s directorial debut, Beware the Gonzo, had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last night, and it immediately feels like the type of late-summer indie sleeper that audiences seem to love buying tickets for. Set around an underground high-school newspaper run by the Hunter S. Thompson–loving “Gonzo” Gillman (Ezra Miller, who undoubtedly watched Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men for inspiration), the film tries to be some genre-bending polemic on the newspaper industry—there are debates over the viability of print versus online!—but it has a little too much in common with every other teen comedy you’ve seen in the past five years. To wit: The slutty girl isn’t really a slut, the nerd is a Casanova, the evil jock has major insecurities; it’s been done before and done better.
Thankfully, though, the charming cast is around to save things when Mr. Goluboff’s sentimental script fails. Mr. Miller recalls Emile Hirsch from the always-underrated The Girl Next Door, and Zoe Kravitz (yes, that Kravitz) is beautiful and tough with a genuine streak of vulnerability as the girl he loves. But the breakout comes from Griffin Newman as—for real—”Horny” Rob Becker, the type of geek that would count McLovin’ among his heroes. Beware the Gonzo isn’t a great movie—though the home-team crowd at the premiere ate it up; it felt like the positive, “you can do it!” vibe someone would get from sitting at a school recital—but at least it’s a good time.
The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for Mat Whitecross’ sex & drugs & rock & roll. One of the more buzzy films at this year’s Tribeca, the musical biopic of New Wave singer Ian Dury is like its subject: loud, obnoxious, annoying, exhausting and berating. By the time this mess was through, my head was pounding. Just as formulaic as Beware the Gonzo, Mr. Whitecross’ film fails because he doesn’t have the slightest clue how to use his talented cast (among the wasted: Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, Olivia Williams) and hits every Behind the Music–worthy beat with the subtly of a highway construction crew. Andy Serkis stars as Mr. Dury, and while he’s certainly committed—it even looked like he did his own singing!—the tics and snarls of the performance draw an unavoidable comparison to his work as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. That’s not a good thing; neither is this movie. There was even a walk-out at the press screening (though maybe the girl just had to use her cell phone). Avoid at all costs.