BY JENNA SIMPSON
On the Road by Jack Kerouac is one of my favourite books. The prose crackles and pops off the page like Alka-Seltzer straight to your consciousness. The book is twitchy, urgent and alive. It is also a story of friendship and self-discovery. On the Road is semi-autobiographical, written about Kerouac’s time spent travelling across America with his friend Neal Cassady, and features characters based on now-famous beat writers and poets like William D. Burroughs and Allan Ginsberg. Despite some troubling sexism that permeates the writing, On the Road is an iconic piece of American literature.
Unfortunately, the movie lacks this crackling urgency. It looks great though, and features some nice performances. The most intriguing performance is Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty. Hedlund is incredible, and shows both depth and range with Dean. Sadly though, the little-known Sam Riley as the protagonist, Sal Paradise, cannot keep up with Hedlund, and comes across as a total sad-sack bore. All of the exciting, vibrant people surrounding Sal are far more interesting, and it’s hard to believe they would want a dullard like him around.
Kristen Stewart is smoldering as Dean’s 16-year-old bride, screwed-up, sex-crazed and desperate to keep a man who can’t be kept. Kirsten Dunst was an odd choice for Camille, but she brings a lot of intelligence and depth to the role of Dean’s long-suffering second wife and mother of his children. Viggo Mortensen is beautifully weird, and the only one to speak what may well be the truth about Dean Moriarty. Amy Adams just sparkles. She just keeps getting better all the time. Finally, Tom Sturridge does a great job as the Allen Ginsberg character, the poet Carlo Marx. We also see lovely bit parts by Elizabeth Moss and Steve Buscemi.
At its heart, of course, On the Road is about life on the road, travelling with no more than a few dollars in your pocket, no particular place to go, unsure about where you’d rest your head that night. It’s about both the freedom of this life, and the precariousness–and perhaps ultimately, the recklessness and irresponsibility as well. This part of the movie is done quite nicely. The scenes that take place literally on the road are quite beautiful. Makes me want to lace up my travelling shoes!
On the whole, On the Road is worth seeing. My advice: If you’re a fan of the book, temper your expectations. If you haven’t read it, don’t let this movie stop you from doing so. If you’re not a fan of the book, then you probably won’t like the movie, so don’t bother.