Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reverend's Reviews: Road Movie

Numerous filmmakers have attempted over the decades to bring Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic On the Road to the big screen.  Walter Salles, who hit it big with The Motorcycle Diaries in 2004, has finally done so.  I hesitate, though, to say that he has succeeded with his adaptation.  It is well-cast, with relative newcomer Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) and Twilight star Kristen Stewart revealing previously unseen emotional depths.  The film also boasts a number of cameo appearances by such big name actors as Terrence Howard, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and, in a surprising gay turn, Steve Buscemi.

Kerouac’s novel is autobiographical and deeply personal, which can be difficult to translate to film.  Indeed, trying to “open up” the source material to make it more accessible while remaining true to the author’s rebellious spirit is what stymied most of Salles’ predecessors.  Also, much of the narrative is comprised of road trips that naturally take place in the cinematically-unfriendly confines of cars.  Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera achieve decidedly mixed results.  On the Road is a great-looking production thanks to Eric Gautier’s beautiful photography of an array of American landscapes, but much of it remains interior and inert.

On the plus side, the movie features considerable gay and bisexual content.  Hedlund’s character, Dean, has sex with women and men (including the aforementioned Buscemi), and occasionally with both at the same time.  Tom Sturridge plays the poetic, defiantly gay Carlo Marx (a stand-in for Kerouac’s friend, fellow beat writer Allen Ginsberg), who doesn’t hide his attraction to Dean and ultimately helps Dean embrace his bisexuality.  Subsequently, gay viewers with an interest in classic American literature may best appreciate On the Road.

Reverend's Rating: C+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest, Rage Monthly Magazine and Echo Magazine.

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