By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
On the Road was one of my favorite reads in college, its bittersweet, , wild, and affirming prose sparking dreams of a distinguished literary career of my own someday. Now I riff on Brett Ratner leering at coffee table books full of giant asses.
Inspiration has many faces
Of course, I’m far from the only one dreaming on Kerouac out there, which is why it’s such a surprise that an adaptation of his masterpiece never hit the big screen til now. People from Marlon Brando to Francis Ford Coppola have tried, but it’s Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) who finally did it. Sam Riley (Control) stars as Keroac alter ego Sal Paradis, who is inspired to criss-cross the country with Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and his alluring teen bride Marylou (Kristen Stewart), meeting an eclectic cast of 1950s luminaries along the way. Their time on the road is full of drama, kinship, drugs, music, and lots and lots and lots of sex.
Well, if nudity’s your thing, there’s plenty ‘o that. Salles and company interpret Kerouac’s youthful ennui and sensation-chasing partially as a series of sexual escapades, which probably isn’t unwarranted. A lot of the vibrancy and joy of On the Road is a communicated this way, as well as the inevitable drama and disillusionment that are a byproduct of all of this tomcatting.
And the horror… there also is the horror
Hedlund and Stewart were the standouts for me as the visceral, larger-than-life couple that formed a large part of Kerouac’s inspiration for his novel. Both show much more talent and liveliness than we’ve come to expect from your Tron:Legacys and Twilights. Sam Riley really impressed in his first role as Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis in Control, and turns in another excellent performance here, as do the rest of the stacked cast that includes Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Terrence Howard, Kirsten Dunst, Elizabeth Moss, and finally impressive newcomer Tom Sturridge as an Allen Ginsburg surrogate.
The story is very meandering and episodic, like the book, but the script turns this into an asset, and Salles supports this living in the moment approach with vibrant, frantic cinematography and editing that is often beautiful. He finally wraps up all of the vagabonding with an ending that is poignant, bittersweet, and true to the characters.
While the cast did a great job of bringing to life some characters who seem larger than it, unfortunately they felt they needed to also use similarly epic (and/or pretentious) voices. Curtis’s deep, measured tone in particular is perfect for voiceover, but not so much for convincingly real-life situations.
Just ask the Batman
On the Road is a beautifully shot, well-acted adaptation of a classic of modern literature. Just like the book, though, you have to be down for plenty of meandering and a touch of pretension.
Take a Drink: for every Jack Kerouac quote delivered in voiceover
Take a Drink: any time someone is nude and/or has sex
Take a Drink: every time you see a shot of a road
Take a Drink: whenever someone abuses a substance (alcohol included)