"On The Road'' Review by Little White Lies
The false promise of the post-war American dream under Harry Truman’s Fair Deal left a generation of young dreamers searching for a different joie de vivre on the open highways that stretch like taut arteries from coast to coast, carrying new blood in no particular direction.
No one captured that sense of urgency, opportunity and impulse better than Jack Kerouac, whose largely autobiographical 1957 novel (written in 1951) – with its erratic prose and sprawling narrative – became a beacon of Beat-era nonconformity. Just as the Kerouac backlash has steadily gained momentum since the novel’s original publication, however, so a shroud of apprehension has slowly begun to descended on Walter Salles’ adaptation since filming wrapped in late 2010.
In truth, the journey to bring ‘On the Road’ to the big screen has been dogged by false starts and mixed fortunes ever since Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights in 1979. But, now that Garret Hedlund’s wild, seductive transient, Dean Moriarty, and Sam Riley’s struggling writer trying to take off, Sal Paradise, have finally arrived, has the wait been worth it?
Well, as far as Hedlund and Riley are concerned at least, On the Road ticks a lot of the right boxes. Both possess a magnetic screen aura that’s essential in sustaining any surface interest in their episodic cross-country bromance. Yet while their drug- and sex-fuelled sampling of New York’s jazz cafes, San Fransisco’s counterculture scene and everything the great American Mid West has to offer in between is undoubtedly lifted by this dynamic pairing, the novel’s central theme of challenging 1940s masculinity is criminally lost.
Salles gives arguably the two most important characters, Moriarty’s on-again-off-again teen bride Marylou and his older, more domesticated sweetheart Camille, to Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst respectively. Shrewd casting, but the culturally emblematic roles of these women (one promiscuous temptress, the other wholesome matriarch) is obscured, and as a result the catalytic power gains and losses between Sal and the girls over Dean’s affections seem trivial.
With a romantic like Salles at the wheel we weren’t expecting On the Road to hold a mirror to today’s disenfranchised American youth. But we weren’t expecting such a tedious, flat film either. Ultimately that’s the price for failing to tone down the narcissistic, shallow tendencies of the characters – although it doesn’t account for just how few memorable scenes there are (with the exception of K-Stew’s boobies and Hedlund nailing a sherried Steve Buscemi).
You can keep the Zeitgeist embalmed in myth and nostalgia for as long as you like, but to truly reinvigorate it you’ll need a whole lot more than a whiskey-hued lens and a frontseat full of pretty faces.
Credit => Little White Lies