Willem Dafoe and Camila Morrone star in Patricia Arquette’s high-flying, fast-paced directorial debut based on Cheryl Della Pietra’s semi-autobiographical novel chronicling her time as Hunter S. Thompson’s personal assistant.
In Patricia Arquette’s Gonzo Girl, aspiring writer (and current bartender) Alley Russo (Camila Morrone) has been hand-picked to be the newest assistant to the legendary father of gonzo journalism, Walker Reade (played by the always revelatory and electric Willem Dafoe). The film is based on the semi-autobiographical 2015 book of the same title by Cheryl Della Pietra, who survived a “three-day trial period involving a .44 magnum, purple-pyramid acid, violent verbal outbursts, brushes with fame and the law, a bevy of peacocks, and a whole lot of cocaine” to work for Hunter S. Thompson.
In the early ’90s, Walker — living in the Rocky Mountains in the afterparty of his heyday — is working on a new novel to revive his readership. He is under constant pressure from the public, publishers, and hangers-on alike (Rick Springfield has a memorable cameo). His long-term manager Claudia (Arquette) is around, as is a newish love interest, Devaney (Elizabeth Lail), flanked by a garden of flower children growing in the wrong era.
Enter Alley, who follows eight other assistants who couldn’t hack it and, high out of their minds, flew the proverbial coop. It’s not long before Alley realizes that Walker — who hasn’t written anything good in 15 years and whose breakfast of champions is a rail and a shot — is stuck inside a gilded rut and getting pages out of him is a Sisyphean endeavour. So, she starts writing her own story. Opening this year’s Discovery programme, Arquette’s directorial debut is a whirlwind and an ornately beguiling reminder to never lose who you are in the madness.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: sexual content