I wouldn’t be a good companion for a Kerouac-esque road trip. Instead of enjoying the promiscuity, the late-40s drugs scene, the fast driving, the extreme weather and the various other delights that came across our path, I would be forever finding fault with everything. Sex?! With EVERYONE?! Are you mad?? Do you want to get an STI?! Drugs?! I’d prefer not to go to prison, thank-you. Please slow down! We’re going to hit something! Jesus, it’s freezing! I need a thicker jumper. Where’s the closest John Lewis?
As you can tell, this is a lifestyle I would not cope with. But when it comes to watching it played out on a cinema screen, I rather enjoy watching other people trying to pull it off. And Walter Salles adaptation of the novel that, according to the publicity material, defined a generation is a generally watchable affair.
It isn’t as profound or endearing as it thinks it is, nor does it completely capture the spirit of Jack Kerouac’s prose. But it does showcase some extremely good performances; the highlight being Garret Hedlund as the free-spirit Dean Moriarty, the best friend of our main protagonist (Sam Riley).
Kristen Stewart isn’t given very much to say, even though she is (rather predictably) all over the posters and trailers for the film. She plays the first wife of Dean. She whines, mumbles and has sex with people. Her performance isn’t awful, but neither is it exactly memorable.
The adaptation does attempt to flesh out the female characters and give them more personality than they were perhaps given in the original text. This was a good decision, although the film still does – quite rightly – feel like a very manly movie. That isn’t to say females won’t like it, but it has a very male heart at its core. It looks at the relationships between men, how they drink together and argue together, love each other, and in some instances have sex with each other and/or shag each other’s partners. It’s an overwhelming experience at times, and it’s to the film’s credit it manages to create such an atmosphere so convincingly.
In the end, the focus of the story becomes blurred – something which may not have mattered on print, but the film doesn’t negotiate it well. It becomes a collage of scenes and episodes that are interesting to a point but don’t really amount to much. It’s worth the experience for the acting alone, but I suspect some members of the audience will find the whole thing a little too self-indulgent and uneven.
On the Road (2012), directed by Walter Salles, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate, Certificate 15.