Aspiring writer Sal Paradise has his world turned upside down by the arrival of free-spirit Dean Moriarty and his girlfriend Marylou. As they travel across the country together, they encounter a group of assorted characters, who make an indelible impression upon the young man.
Sometimes all the industry has to do is pronounce a book to be “un-filmable” for some bright spark of a “cult” director to twist himself into knots attempting to prove the contrary. Un-filmable can also be interpreted as “un-interesting” and/or “un-commercial”, and Walter Salles’ (THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) rendering of Jack Kerouac’s 1950s classic is certainly both. But credit where credit is due, the sheer tedium of the storyline (if there is one) and the dreariness of the lead characters are combined with enough nudity, sex, drugs, and good jazz to keep audiences from dozing off completely during its 137 minutes’ running time.
When Kristen Stewart’s nude pictures hit the web a while back, salacious curiosity was aroused and a very mediocre – and I might say superfluous – film got more media attention than it deserved. Still, it is evidently considered to be “high art” – I was impressed by the number of arthouse critics, culture buffs, and miscellaneous literati who attended the press screening. Maybe it was the free drinks…
As far as the storyline is concerned, from what I could make out, it all begins in Denver where, following the death of his father, aspiring young novelist Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), meets and immediately idolizes Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a handsome drifter who seems to do little but get high and shag a succession of women. There is some indication that he could even be a writer too, but who cares? Together they take off, Moriarty’s sexy young wife Marylou (Stewart) in tow, and drive across post-war America to “find themselves”.
As for the visuals, Eric Gautier did a magnificent job with the cinematography, as the protagonists take the viewer from Denver to New York to Louisiana to San Francisco and back again. But there is little character development in this interminable road trip and certainly no one the audience can give two hoots about or even vaguely relate to. Jack Kerouac would be turning in his grave if he could see what Salles, the producers, and screenwriter Jose Rivera have done with his 416-paged work that inspired an entire generation. But when push comes to shove, we’ve all been there and done that and the only difference is that the Beat Generation took itself very, very seriously. Needless to say, there is little humour, if any.
Despite the sad lack of any real character development, the protagonists make the best of it, putting in some respectable performances: Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst and Morgan, although the brief cameos steal the show, especially Viggo Mortenson’s portrayal of Old Bull (based on William S. Burroughs) and Terence Howard’s sparkling few seconds as a musician based on John Coltrane.
ON THE ROAD ((USA/UK/France 2012): US Distributor: IFC Films; Release date: October 15th. 2012; (German title: On the Road: Unterwegs; Distributed by Concorde Filmverleih; Release date: October 4, 2012); Running time: 137 mins; Director: Walter Salles; Writer (Screenplay): Jose Rivera/ Novel: Jack Kerouac; Cast: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen.