TIFF 2023: Wildcat, Gonzo Girl, Orlando My Political Autobiography | Festivals & Awards

September 14, 2023 - Movies

Another powerful creator from Hawke’s generation is Patricia Arquette, who segues from a phenomenal on-camera career to her first turn behind the camera with “Gonzo Girl,” based on the book by Cheryl Della Pietra. It’s curious to me that Arquette has chosen a project about a young woman who gets caught up in the egocentric sphere of a man who is increasingly becoming a caricature of himself given how many powerful personalities she’s been around in her notable career. Like a lot of actors-turned-directors, Arquette is good with performance but can’t quite get her arms around a clunky script, one that allows its inconsistent characters to get sucked into the vortex of its larger-than-life central personality. I adore Arquette and this freshman effort changes nothing about that, but it’s a misfire that I hope she overcomes with a stronger sophomore outing soon.

“Gonzo Girl” is one of those odd biopics that’s not really a biopic. Likely for estate reasons, the central figure here has been renamed from Hunter S. Thompson to Walker Reade (Willem Dafoe), but it is undeniably the man who found fear and loathing in Las Vegas. Camila Morrone (“Daisy Jones & the Six”) plays Alley Russo, an aspiring writer who gets a gig as the assistant to Reade, a gun-toting, drug-snorting lunatic who has reached the point of his career (in the early ‘90s) in which he’s kind of become a joke. The founder of gonzo journalism has to give the gonzo nuts what they need, including the groupies who circle around him, hanging on his every word, encouraging his worst behavior. Alley doesn’t play his game, which earns his admiration, of course. And leads to SO much drug use.

The problem is that Alley Russo is just too inconsistent to have an impact. It’s not Morrone’s fault—she feels like a future star with the right part—but the script here forces Alley to give lip service to her own identity but then largely just respond to the latest bad behavior from Walker. She ends up being his babysitter, his lover, his muse, and his friend. And none of it really lands as believable. 

The best thing about “Gonzo Girl” is how much Arquette adores Willem Dafoe’s face, keeping her camera in close-up for long scenes, recognizing that it’s one of the best in movie history. Hunter S. Thompson would have loved it.

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