With an 11-year old on the middle school newsletter I could see it. A rebellious teenage who could mostly do what they want in the digital aether. Why bother? Or I could just be projecting. There is also the fact that any high school set movie by Disney is going to be pretty tame.
After thinking on it I realize I saw a movie that updated the themes of Harriet The Spy in a high school setting pretty well. Beware The Gonzo.
First of let me say the plot is tighter. Both protagonists do what they do because it's in them do to it. With Harriet the movie has to take more time conveying that to the audience, because in our mind's it's so weird for an 11-year to think like that. A 17-year-old giving anti-authoritarian speeches about the need for the voices of his generation to be heard and taken seriously, not so much. Hell that was me 10 years ago. Screw that! That's me last week.
"You believed in me and I betrayed you all."
In order to understand the story you have to understand Eddie (Gonzo) Gillman. He is well gonzo. At the start of the story Eddie is on the school paper because he wants to be a serious journalist. And for a school newspaper that might not... gel. These are kids, kids who have to answer to parental and educational authorities. And Eddie being Eddie doesn't give a damn about that. Sometimes it comes off as an arrogant, entitled 17-year-old and sometimes kid's got balls. And the weird thing is it's acted the same either way. And that's the point. Eddie is smart and brave, but doesn't have the wisdom to know when to turn it off, when that bravery and intelligence actually turns into stupidity. He's almost like Vermin from The Warriors. For better or worse, he can't help himself. And we see both the better and the worse, let's start with the better.
Revenge of the Nerds
After an article he writes about a friend's bullying gets cut to ribbons he decides to screw it and start his own paper. There is no jump.
"That's not what a newspaper is for! A newspaper is for everybody! It's a public trust!"
The movie posits that while the powers that be hate it his paper is a good, no great thing, giving the nerds and outcasts who are mostly ignored and bullied a voice and community. It gives them the chance to shatter the illusion that the popular kids are perfect. It gives them a way to fight back.
When I was bullied as a kid that was my problem. I didn't know how to fight back. Tell an adult they win. Hit them and get suspended. They win. Tell them off and they ignore your words, they FUCKING win. These kids found a way to do it and do it on their own terms. There is something I like about that.
"Ever feel lost, lonely, weird, really ugly, last to get the joke? Ever wonder where the party is, ever get a dodge ball in your face, pop a boner in your sweat pants? Ever feel embarrassed about being smart? Ever just feel like staying bed all day, all week all year. You ever feel misunderstood, cheated, alone? Ever wonder why nothing feels easy ever? Well this paper is for you. Welcome to the Gonzo Files. "
Speaking as a nerd this movie really gets it. The powerlessness of being an outsider in high school. And for the most part the teens act like teens.
"More T&A, duly noted."
By the way you know that thing I was saying about blogs. Eddie is the type of guy who will go on a rant about the decline of print journalism.
"No we aren't hiding behind user names in cyberspace this going to be a communal expereice, something tangible, an actual thing you can hold and get the ink on your fingers!"
In the end the only reason why there is an online component at all is because he's trying to impress a girl, who tells him nobody including herself will take the effort seriously if there isn't a web component.
While some of their stuff is a little tabloidy there is also some actually pretty good journalism, videotaping rats in the cafeteria for instance.
"You're kidding. Listen up everybody. There's inspectors from the board of health in there. They're shutting the cafeteria down, we won."
The Great Question
While I really like the paper there is the problem Eddie poses to Eddie. He's 17. While I love his paper he is undisputely taking a wrecking ball to his academic prospects. It's his mom and principal's jobs to be concerned. I've always postulated that kids, teenagers in particular are shortsighted, selfish and narcissistic, and until a certain age need adults around to reign that shit in before they do something stupid. Eddie is all of those things. As stated before he just doesn't care and can't help himself. While the movie is on his side before it all goes bad, it doesn't completely demonize the adults for getting concerned. Because well Eddie does a lot of stupid shit. And we're not talking teenage hijinks stupid. We're talking seriously fucked up, made me want to jump though the screen to kick his ass stupid. The movie starts in media res with him videotaping a heartfelt public apology. Put your fingers in your ears if you don't want third act spoilers.
The only people who know what the edge looks like are the ones have gone over it.
Eddie has the tendency to take things personally. For a lot of the movie people getting their comeuppance seems justified. Most of his targets have actively made his and his compatriots lives miserable. And while he crosses some lines in the first half he doesn't seriously hurt anybody...mostly.
As the paper gets bigger so does his ego. After the paper rivalry get's real with bogus articles in the competition tarnishing Eddie's name...well.
"I'm going to destroy you!"
While the kid made some mistakes and did some stupid stuff and to a degree acted like a douche, he's still a kid. Gonzo prints an article that mentions athletic steroids that ruins his college chances. I'm torn. The insinuation was true (it's doubtful that Gonzo knew that at the time), but the article was written for the soul purpose of slamming this guy. Eddie has officially lost it. More unsettling is that these are kids. I alluded to it before but I'll say it flat-out here. I don't hold kids fully accountable for their actions. Throughout the movie Gonzo's dad has been egging him on with this stuff. It's at this point were we realize that might have been a bad idea.
After the heat gets turned up Gonzo's friends get cold feet. They're getting it from the bullies they've ticked off and the administration, which threatens expulsion if another edition is published.
Not only does Gonzo publish another paper, alone, he prints things in it that his friends told him confidence. In particular that his love interest was drugged and raped at a party before the story starts. Like I said before that kind of shit makes me rebuke him and retract every nice thing I said about they guy.
Apart from all the personal betrayals the movie presents that the true casualty is the paper itself. For the people who needed high school to be a little easier there was a glimmer of hope that was snatched away by bastard named Gonzo.
"You believed in me and I betrayed you all."
In the end the paper continues, without him.
"The voice of the underdog must be heard, power to the people."
I'm going to be honest the end of the movie is a bit of a cop out. It doesn't feel like Gonzo faces any real consequences for the bullshit he put everybody though. He's back in school. He is back together with his girlfriend. His friends forgive him. Harriet the spy spent half the movie having everybody angst over "the betrayal" Here it's more like 10 minutes. That was too easy.