On the Road Screen 15 articles

On the Road

2012

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  • While each major performance is atrocious in its own way (especially Amy Adams and Viggo Mortensen), Salles’s consistently inert sense of pacing confirms On the Road as a soulless adaptation, lacking the dangerous allure of Kerouac’s book.

  • Salles and Rivera rarely allow viewers to think for themselves or to appreciate the agony and ecstasy of the nomadic romantic lifestyle. Instead, they superimpose voice-over narration, often taken verbatim from Kerouac’s book, onto these beautifully spare images. Everything in Salles and Rivera’s On the Road is explicitly spelled out, nothing is left to the viewers’ imagination, and no one scene ever feels as alive as Kerouac’s novel.

  • What we finally have is a stultifyingly faithful adaptation from both the 1957 novel and the 1951 scroll version, which Kerouac typed out on 120 taped-together sheets of tracing paper, only published in 2007. The screenplay, if one can call it that, written by Jose Rivera, is nothing but the novel transposed to the screen, ignoring the fact that what works on the page doesn’t necessarily work on film. If ever a screenplay needed the proverbial red pencil, this was it.

  • This stunt-cameo-loaded flick—Steve Buscemi, Elisabeth Moss, Terrence Howard and Kirsten Dunst all make fleetingly ineffectual, for-the-love-of-our-art appearances—mostly feels like a group of Kerouac devotees performing a lifeless reenactment of prose that was better left on the page.

  • It’s painfully conventional and, for all the rushing around, generally inert. The only one who seems to be breaking free is Kristen Stewart, liberated from her Gothic twilight in the role of Dean’s game-for-anything child bride.

  • Sensitively-done, but nothing feels as manufactured as other people's good times - then they turn into troubled times, then it just spins its wheels altogether. There's no shorthand, every scene is approximately the same length, and the sense of fleeting meetings, the hidden world inside every person, the immense open highway after each encounter - the whole sense of life on the road - never comes to the fore...

  • Everything looks great: the endless shots of America at dusk, the scenes of Kristen Stewart’s sweet little Marylou and other hopped-up jazzbos dancing to Dizzy, the weathered faces that could have been lifted from a Robert Frank portfolio, the sensual threesomes in chipped-paint apartments. But even at its most hyperventilating, this finely detailed period piece comes off like a stuffy prestige pic—the cinematic equivalent of a fancy, leather-bound Library of America edition.

  • If this handsome international coproduction does a solid job of conveying the feel of wide-open spaces of the '40s (less so the scenes set in Ozone Park, Queens), it misses the book's jazzier tone. Kerouac's prose style—his enthusiasm, his openness, the way he gabs with everyone he meets—never registers in Sam Riley's earnest performance as the author's stand-in, Sal Paradise.

  • Viggo Mortensen makes things jump with his sepulchral growl as Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs), and Elisabeth Moss and Amy Adams pump juice into sidelined wives. But Mr. Salles, an intelligent director whose films include “The Motorcycle Diaries,” doesn’t invest “On the Road” with the wildness it needs for its visual style, narrative approach and leads.

  • It’s in this second half where it beings to feel more like recycled or barely variegated story lines being regurgitated one after the other. Which is a shame since the first half of the film had me mostly entertained, Salles’ atmospheric, period-perfect locations and the actors’ jovial chemistry working to mask some of the narrative leaps and shortcuts.

  • Salles’ adaptation is remarkably monotonous. Though it might have been Salles’ aim to capture the juvenile dreams of his characters, the celebratory tone of the ending (taken from the book) of Paradise pecking away at his typewriter throughout the night places this firmly in that insufferable realm of venerating the tortured male writer. It’s enough to give you motion sickness on this long, dull road trip.

  • Salles emphasizes all of the silly landscape stuff that Kerouac ignored in favor of verbal joys, of the thrill of thinking and speaking and being spoken to thoughtfully. This shift often cheapens the less-than-noble tendencies of Beat culture; when the characters interpret President Truman's call to "reduce the cost of living" as an invitation to thieve, Kerouac's treatise on all-American skullduggery is boiled down to a piddling punchline.

  • Director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) gives this his usual polish, and the two-hour running time allows him to suggest the meandering quality of the novel, which he's filled out with plenty of sex, drugs, and Beat Generation lore. Predictably, the movie explodes only when Kerouac's prose provides the voice-over.

  • Salles's On the Road does build to a certain rueful poignancy. The film ends with a last, guilty meeting, Paradise's fortunes beginning to rise as Moriarty's fall; he's a burned-out firework, precisely because he has put into practice the irresponsible, footloose philosophy that Paradise is making an artistic commodity. Here is one glimmer of truth in what's otherwise a deliberately unfinished fraud—another "primitive" postwar antique repurposed for boutique sale.

  • ...Walter Salles’ 2012 film version of On the Roaddeserves more recognition and serious analysis than it received from reviewers: not only for its sense of period and its landscapes, but above all as a polemical feminist rewrite of the Kerouac novel—partly prompted, I suspect, by Joyce Johnson’s memoirMinor Characters, not to mention an understandable hesitation about delivering the novel’s misogyny intact without any demurrals or caveats.

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