thu 06/08/2020

DVD: On The Road | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: On The Road

DVD: On The Road

The film of Jack Kerouac's seminal Beat novel overplays its youthful hedonism

On the road to nowhere: (from left) Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, and Garrett HedlundLionsgate

Walter Salles was an obvious choice to direct the movie of Jack Kerouac’s roman à clef about his peripatetic life in 1947-50 and his worship of the dynamically dissolute Neal Cassady (Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty). Not only did the Brazilian filmmaker have the advantage of being able to bring an outsider's perspective to the rusty Beat canon, but his handling of Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries had revealed his knack for harnessing topographic images to the emotional experiences of traveling companions. 

Atmospherically photographed by Éric Gaultier, the vistas don’t disappoint, whether they're of the back country roads that mirror the Kerouac character Sal Paradiso’s openness to ideas, or of the Manhattan parking lot that reflects Dean’s psychological block. But the film's celebrations of rebellion and the “glory” of the writer’s life are far too giddy. “The only people that interest me are the mad ones,” gushes Sam Riley’s puppyish Sal, quoting Kerouac, in his voiceover narration. Riley was more convincing as Ian Curtis in Control.

The celebrations of rebellion and the writer's life are far too giddy

The depiction of women is even more problematic. As Marylou, Dean’s teen bride, the normally reticent Kristen Stewart espouses sexual insouciance while being exploited: there’s a pornographic unsavouriness to the scenes of Marylou going down on Dean as he drives and later masturbating Dean and Sal simultaneously. Kirsten Dunst is restricted to playing Dean’s other wife as the mostly sorrowful victim of his infidelity.

Viewers over 30 might sigh with relief when Viggo Mortensen shows up as Old Bull Lee, the enigmatic William S. Burroughs surrogate, and Amy Adams as his (doomed) wife. Terrence Howard shines as a Charlie Parker-like sax player and Steve Buscemi as a straight-acting salesmen who pays for sex with Dean. 

Conformity ensnares most rebels in the end. In that respect, On The Road arrives at a ruefully satisfying (if not happy) conclusion and a final dab of ominous poetry. If it meanders into rhetoric en route, the journey isn’t without merit.

Watch the trailer:

There’s a pornographic unsavouriness to the scene of Marylou masturbating Dean and Sal


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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