“On the Road”

Susan Granger’s review of “On the Road” (IFC Films)


This long-awaited interpretation of Jack Kerouac’s iconic chronicle of his youthful adventures has attracted a stellar cast but, unfortunately, it never captures the spontaneous exuberance or rhapsodic wanderlust of the Beat Generation.

Beginning in 1947, experienced car thief Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) – a.k.a. Neal Cassady – is introduced as he adroitly shifts vehicles around in a New York City parking lot. Promiscuous, amoral and irresponsible, he has already acquired a free-spirited, 16 year-old wife, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), and staid mistress, Camille (Kirsten Dunst), and is pursued by homosexual poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) – a.k.a. Allen Ginsberg.  Determined to find his father, Dean, the irrepressible drifter/hustler, is joined in his meandering travels by an aspiring French-Canadian writer, Salvatore Paradise (Sam Riley) –
a.k.a. Jack Kerouac.  Criss-crossing the country in a Hudson, they make memorable stops in Denver, San Francisco, Mexico and New Orleans, where they meet with morphine-addicted Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) – a.k.a. William S. Burroughs – and his wife Jane (Amy Adams).

“The only people for me are the mad ones,” Paradise explains. “The ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like Roman candles across the night.”

Scripted by Puerto Rican Jose Rivera, photographed by Frenchman Eric Gautier and directed by Brazilian Walter Salles, cinematic collaborators who adapted Che Guevara’s “The Motorcycle Diaries,” Kerouac’s rambling, episodic, quintessentially American narrative has long been considered unfilmable, perhaps because the protagonist is a psychologically passive observer.

Back in the 1950s, Kerouac is said to have sent the manuscript to Marlon Brando, hoping he’d star in it. Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights in 1978 but the project which he developed with his son Roman Coppola didn’t come to fruition until they approached Walter Salles in 2004.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “On the Road” is a tiresome, relentlessly feverish 4, coming to a dead end.