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Wick's Review

Created Mar 26, 2013 12:54AM PST • Edited Feb 08, 2023 01:37AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Very Good 3.5

    I read On The Road by 21 because it was necessary. I saw On The Road this weekend to be entertained.

    Entertaining it is, though cultural legacy aside, mad words about mad living don’t make a great movie, not without great acting and a cinematic story, neither of which On The Road has. Ya dig?

    Consider the cast.

    Amy Adams is a great actress, Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst distinctive stars, but they’re mere adjuncts to Sam Riley as Jack Kerouac’s doppelgänger and Garrett Hedlund as alpha-male Dean Moriarty.

    Hedlund and Riley are very good as incarnations of Cassady and Kerouac, the latter furiously scribbling a stream-of-consciousness account of the mad goings-on. But it’s possible to imagine other actors playing their roles, meaning they’re not great actors. Still, very good ain’t chopped liver, especially in a gig where Kristen Stewart gives ’em simultaneous hand-jobs as they barrel across New Mexico — naked as jaybirds.

    Now consider the story.

    On The Road remains seminal, with some lines memorable and others downright funny. However, a story about a journey that’s as much internal as on the road resists cinematic treatment. IOW, the book is better.

    Beatnikerouan Treat

    That don’t matter much to we Beatnikerouans, we Kerouac fans, we On The Road Ragers. To us, On The Road is bracing, tickling and more than a little evocative. Squares will find it slow and odd. The good news is that most viewers know which camp they fall in before entering the theater. All will be sure walking out.

  3. Very Good 3.5

    Sam Riley brings a half-haunted, half-passive mien to the role Sal Paradise, Jack Kerouac’s alter ego. Former male model Garrett Hedlund has the lean look of Neal Cassady’s alter ego Dean Moriarty, if not his supposed charisma. Hedlund’s thin voice may be why he doesn’t do more with the role.

    Kristen Stewart is plenty seductive as Cassady’s jail-bait wife, though Stewart doesn’t much pass for a teenager anymore. Her overt sexuality in On The Road may become the movie’s legacy.

    Kirsten Dunst is by turns soft and hard as Cassady’s other wife. The third big-name actress is Amy Adams as the compliant wife of another addled writer. Adams gives a particularly earthy performance in her brief time on screen, marking the second sexualized role she’s played recently, the other being in The Master.

    Tom Sturridge is more simpering than scintillating as Allen Ginsberg’s doppelgänger.

    Lesser notables:

    • Alice Braga, niece of Sonya Braga, as a farm-worker who shares her bed with Kerouac.
    • Elisabeth Moss as a young wife left high and dry when her husband goes on the road.
    • Viggo Mortensen as the doppelgänger of Beat icon William S. Burroughs, sick fuck that he was.
    • Steve Buscemi as a traveling salesman with a thing for guys.
    • Terrence Howard as a sax man with a taste for partying. Is there another kind?
  4. Male Stars Very Good 3.5
  5. Female Stars Very Good 3.5
  6. Female Costars Great 4.0
  7. Male Costars Great 4.0
  8. Very Good 3.5

    Bromances & Babes could be the subtitle. But first, the relevance…

    Kerouac wrote at the dawn of a new generation, all wound up with nowhere to go, except … on the road. The Beats – just post-Greatest Generation – became the vanguard for the Disaffected Generations to follow.

    Disaffected yes, but desirous of experience even more, adventuresome most of all. Basically a bunch of literary artists buzzing about a hunk of American man named Neal Cassady. Cassady later became the driver of the Magic Bus. Yes, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ Magic Bus, all of which led into the early Grateful Dead scene. But first he was the muse to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, along with being MacDaddy to a handful of hotties, not all of them exactly “of age.” Hate him if you must. As the film shows, he’s all about the living and not about the life. So it’s hard not to love him, as his wives learned.

    • Dean Moriarty / Neal Cassady is Top Dog, so everybody wants to be around him. Fits a certain ideal of the American Man, at least to many American Men, especially when we were younger. Free, alive, insatiable, friendly, capable, attractive. Yet, the guy who lines up a girl for his buddy and then ends up in bed with her himself – while his buddy listens from the other room. That guy.
    • Sal Paradise / Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road on a 30’ scroll of taped together typewriter paper. If not the best thing he wrote, it’s what he’s famous for, a fact that tormented him till his last day.
    • Carlo Marx / Allen Ginsberg was ready to Howl.
    • Marylou / LuAnne Henderson was too young to know better. Not surprisingly, she appears to have had a hell of good time on the road with Cassady.
    • Camille / Carolyn Cassady lived in Monte Sereno when married to Cassady. He worked for the Southern Pacific at the Campbell depot at the time. Yes he held down a job working on the clock.
    • Old Bull Lee / William S. Burroughs was like a mean old Hunter S. Thompson before Hunter ever picked up a gun.
    • Jane / Joan Vollmer knew better, yet married Burroughs.
  9. Direction Good 3.0
  10. Play Great 4.0
  11. Music Great 4.0
  12. Visuals Great 4.0
  13. Content
  14. Sordid 2.6

    Sex and drugs and wild music were central to the Beat scene, so occupy large parts of the movie. For instance, Kristen Stewart won’t need a sex tape to inflame the next phase of her celebrity. On The Road will suffice. YouTube is already stocked with outtakes.

    It’s not all hetero, e.g. the longing expressed by the Allen Ginsburg character for the Neal Cassady character. More outré is Cassady/Moriarty turning a trick with a traveling salesman, a bit of explicit homosexual imagery that apparently wasn’t in the novel. The times, they are a changin.

    The drug scene includes the mild and the wild, weed and Benzedrine respectively.

  15. Sex Erotic 3.5
  16. Violence Gentle 1.5
  17. Rudeness Profane 2.7
  18. Glib 1.3

    So much has been said about the novel and movie, especially the former. Nothing more need be said here.

  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.6
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Glib 1.3


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