Release date: May 25, 2012 (Cannes)
Directed by: Walter Salles; Written by: Jose Rivera
Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart
Derogatory dismissals of prosaic visual experiences have been around since, well, someone was bored to tears. We’ve heard such poetic hyperbole as watching paint dry. Or grass grow. In Walter Salles’ On the Road, we can now add to that lexicon by suggesting that this film is as riveting as watching a writer write. This isn’t metaphorical; we are forced to watch the Kerouac character, the budding bebop voice of his generation, scribble his thoughts on notepads as he wends his way through the Great American landscape, from the start of his road trip in 1948 to December, 1951. Not just one road trip but many; not just one destination but rather a veritable map of routes traversing and double-backing as far south as Mexico, as far north as Quebec, covering all parts in between. Is this a drama or an examination of mid-20th century U.S. highways?
Salles’ attempt to turn Jack Kerouac’s seminal, rangy novel “On the Road” — reflecting the late ’40s through mid-’50s mindset of the Beat Generation — may be earnest but, ironically, proves why a successful book-to-film adaptation has faltered for over five decades. Kerouac’s lyrical reflections are as firmly anchored to the page as the type font itself.
It seems that filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman had faced a similar challenge with 2010′s Howl, the creatively daring interpretation of the life and works of Beat artist Allen Ginsberg (played by James Franco). Rather than holding to a strict adherence, they solved the problem of bringing the epic poem to screen by presenting three disparate elements melded into one filmic fugue: biopic, animation and faux documentary. Not that this may have been the answer with On the Road, but it sure beats a travelogue … or, rather, a travel bog.
[For the full review, and Kimberly's thoughts on Kristen Stewart's acting abilities: please click here]