REVIEW: 'On the Road' pulls up just short
By Stephen Rea
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013, 7:53 p.m.
People have been trying to film Jack Kerouac's “On the Road,” the talismanic Beat novel, just about since the day it was published in 1957.
But here, finally, and kind of anticlimactically, comes a r eal “On the Road,” directed by Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”).
Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Kerouac's alter ego, and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty (alias Neal Cassady) crisscross the States, dropping down to New Orleans from New York and then over to San Francisco and all around, the wild-and-crazy guys lob a lot of highfalutin gab about freedom and truth, the nature of man and the search for God. And then they smoke some weed, play some jazz, have some sex and scrounge for cash.
If there's an element of posturing and posing in the book — the eager Sal practically taking notes at Dean Moriarty's feet — it's even more pronounced in the film. Riley and Hedlund are handsome dudes and earnest actors, but to watch them here is to see two men not quite certain how to burrow deep into the characters they're playing, because the characters they're playing were faking it, too. How do you get to the core of someone who is still figuring out who he (or she) is, scratching for clues from the people who impress them, glomming onto intellectual and artistic theories that ring true?
“On the Road” is shot beautifully, and Salles has managed to find a two-lane America of small towns unblemished by strip malls, of big cities that still feel like they have room to breathe. Kristen Stewart is convincing as the wild, teenage Marylou (based on Cassady's wife, LuAnne), a sexually accommodating traveling companion with a sad, self-protective edge. And Kirsten Dunst gets the strongest — and least fun — scenes as Camile (a.k.a. Carolyn), Moriarty's next missus, and the mother of his babies, stuck in her San Francisco apartment while the guys hit the town.
“On the Road” is an honorable homage to the bennies-and-booze-and-bebop-driven hegiras undertaken by the fiercely dedicated anti-establishment duo. But in Salles, screenwriter Jose Rivera and company's effort to get the details right, they get only so far.
And it's not quite far enough.
Stephen Rea reviews movies for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.