GONZO GIRL (TIFF 2023) – Review by Leslie Combemale

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As a directorial debut, Patricia Arquette could have done a lot worse than Gonzo Girl. Based on the book about the experiences of Cheryl Della Pietra’s as Hunter S. Thompson’s assistant in the mid-nineties, Arquette was the perfect age to understand the challenges of a women in the business world of the time. Girlie babies, it was not as it is now. Dealing with sexism, lots of “sweeties” and “honeys” and “sweethearts” was par for the course, regardless of what career you were in, but certainly the film industry and the literary world had to have a lot of similarities.

She certainly cast it well. Fans of Willem Dafoe would find it hard to say no to the actor channeling Hunter S. Thompson as “Walker Reade”, one of the craziest, most irresponsible writers of our time. As the fictionalized version of Pietra, “Alley Russo”, Arquette tapped the vintage era it girl Camila Morrone, who recently got great notices in Daisy Jones & The Six, a story of rock and rollers leaning into excess which takes place in the mid to late 70s. Overriding of the sometimes too-cool-for-school and trying-too-hard script, Dafoe and Morrone are compelling to watch, whether together or alone. In fairness, it’s pretty hard to capture or advance on the craziness of what really happened in the time, so most scripts are going to fall short. The two performers make up for it, but shouldn’t have to.

The costuming and production design offers a lot to look at, especially as Alley transforms from who she is before coming to Reade’s compound, to either Reade’s fantasy of what he’d wish his female editorial assistant to be, or what Alley, in her heart of hearts, wants to be. It’s hard to tell which Alley is leaning into, but in the time, she would do well for both the be in sync. The various secondary characters, like Elizabeth Lail as Reade’s current “piece”, give color to those egging Reade on, as they take advantage of his largess, and suck on the financial teat he represents.

As a first time director, Arquette shows a facility with interesting shots and choosing below-the-line artists who will give life to a film’s vision, and choosing performers who will click, and make the best of their lines. She’ll do well in the future with a better script. She already knows how to bring out the best out of good actors working together.

3 out of 5 stars.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website, CinemaSiren.com, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's TheCredits.org, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at AWFJ.org. Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.