Movie Review – On the Road
Category : Movie Review
To even attempt to enjoy this film you absolutely must read the novel first. On the Road was written by Jack Kerouac in 1957 and is an account of his cross-country adventures with his best friend Nick Cassidy. It’s a snapshot of the United States in an era of lost souls, the Beat Generation; young people attempting to find themselves through music, poetry, travel, and gregarious self-expression. It’s a difficult book to read, a lot of random occurrences, jazz clubs, drinking binges, musings on life, strange characters. But at the heart of it is the relationship between Jack & Nick, or Sal & Dean as they are called in the book & film. Sal is the narrator, Dean is the catalyst, a figure so wild and free and attractive and young; the spirit of the time. I describe Dean as Peter Pan, Finny, Gatsby, and Ferris Bueller all rolled into one ball of pure energy. It’s he who makes the book readable and the film watchable, a character we can all relate to and love in some strange way even while the rest of the action surrounding him leaves us feeling rather bored.
Sal Paradise, played by Sam Riley, is the author, journalist, eye witness, and narrator of this epic story, telling a tale of youth, of freedom on the road that breaks all bonds and opens the mind to all possibilities. It’s a romantic story, one brought down often by the details of life; money, love, jealousy, family, authority, time. But if anyone can rouse up an adventure, putting behind all the mundane details of responsibility, it’s Sal’s best friend Dean Moriarty, played by Garrett Hedlund. Dean always has a plan, is constantly in motion, and never has a girl far from his side. The colossal road trips that he convinces Sal to accompany him on are usually driven by the desire for women: either Marylou, played by Kristen Stewart, or Camille, played by Kirsten Dunst. But his wild urges to cross the United States to get to these girls never keep him from having a good time on the way there; with drugs, prostitutes, bars, strangers, old friends, hitchhikers, whatever. And while Dean carouses, Sal falls more and more in love with his hero, his friend on the road, his companion of youth.
I imagine the film would make no sense whatsoever to anyone who hasn’t read the novel. The two are very true to each other, the movie being one of the better representations of a book that I’ve seen. The pace, the spirit, the lines; all pulled from the novel and done well. Coming into this film having not read the novel would make anyone feel lost & confused, as the plot really only exists within the drive of the characters and the experiences of the road. It’s a wild ride in which nothing anyone does really makes any sense at all, their emotions deciding on their next course of action. And so to love the film you might have to have loved the book, and unfortunately I only liked it. I liked Kerouac’s writing and I related to both Sal & Dean, but by the end of the book I was bored and glad to be done. I felt the same way about the film; it was well-done and well-acted, but it was also exhausting at times, boring at others. Hedlund did an excellent job as Dean, the manic protagonist. And I even thought Kristen Stewart was strong as Marylou. There were some cool cameos; Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams. But taken as a whole the film dragged, despite it’s solid pieces. The blame could go to the novel; it dragged as well, and although it’s undoubtedly a classic with great characters, it’s not the easiest book to read. I highly recommend that you read Kerouac’s work first and than watch the film version, but that might not help; those who hate the book will hate the movie, those who only like the book will only like the movie, and most likely those who worship the book will probably despise the movie. So perhaps it’s a lose/lose situation for On the Road and three stars is about the best it’s going to get.
My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰