Toronto International Film Festival 2023. Review of “Gonzo Girl” by Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette’s directorial debut, Gonzo Girl, adapted from Cheryl Della Pietra’s autobiography and loosely based on the father of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson (here Walker Reade), is dynamic, vibrant and brave. It premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival as the opening film of the Discovery program.

The story follows Alley Russo as she becomes Walker Reade’s assistant whose job is to help him finish his latest book. But he has writer’s block, so this is no easy feat as distractions (drugs, parties, etc.) abound and his primetime for writing (2AM) coincides with his primetime for partying.

With this film, Arquette doesn’t want to merely do another retelling of Hunter S. Thompson’s life – there have been many of those, including Where the Buffalo Roam, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diary. Far from that. She uses this story to explore other issues such as co-dependence, addiction, power dynamics and she does it admirably well. Alley Russo is most certainly not the first nor the last young woman who would do anything in order to advance in life by working for a famous person.

Arquette, a seasoned actress, is an accomplished director who is highly protective of her actors and because of that is able to get the best possible performances out of them. Recently Emmy-nominated Camilla Morrone of Daisy Jones & The Six fame, is luminous as the title “Gonzo Girl,” Alley Russo. She owns the screen, spectacularly carries the film and seamlessly switches between the various moods and phases of her character. Willem Defoe, who is no stranger to eccentric characters, is just brilliant as Walker Reade, the stand-in for Hunter S. Thompson. The chemistry between the two is as explosive as it gets. Patricia Arquette, who plays the long-suffering Claudia is also terrific and nuanced, giving HER a special touch. Ray Nicholson is still trying to tap into his father’s charismatic energy. Gonzo Girl is very much an actors’ film.

What makes this film burst with electrifying energy is precisely the amalgamation of all these characteristics plus a brilliant soundtrack and the grainy lensing courtesy of Bobby Bukowski aided and abetted by kaleidoscopically trippy VFX.

Gonzo Girl is a vivaciously superb film and Arquette should most definitely step behind the camera more often. It is a treat to see her direct and I, for one, cannot wait to see what she does next.




Production: Catch and Release Films, Rh Negative, Bayard Productions (USA 2023). Producers: Frank Hall Green, Tom Heller. Executive Producers: Susannah Blinkoff, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Barry Germansky, Regina Hall, Melony Lewis, Cameron O’Reilley, Suna Said, Nathalie Seaver, Tad Selby, Jamie Wolf. Associate producers: Ron Baldwin, Jordan Corngold, Dave Kirkpatrick, Kiara Varela, Caitlin Zvoleff. Co-producer: Oscar O’Reilley. Line producer: Scott Hinckley.  Director: Patricia Arquette. Screenplay: Jessica Caldwell, Rebecca Thomas, based on Cheryl Della Pietra’s autobiography. Cinematography: Bobby Bukowski. Costume Design: Sophie Hardmann. Production Design: Stephonik. Score: Pierre Charles. Editing: Todd Downing.

Cast: Camila Morrone (Alley Russo), Willem Defoe (Walker Reade), Patricia Arquette (Claudia), Sean Penn, Elizabeth Lail (Devaney Peltier), Ray Nicholson (Larry), Zoë Bleu Sidel (Rose), James Urbaniak (Lionel)

Color – 107 min. Premiere: 7-IX-2023 (Toronto International Film Festival)



Photo credits: Courtesy of TIFF.

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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