views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

On The Road (15)
Odeon, Covent Garden
8th October 2012


Despite a string of acting credits to her name, including a strong performance as the troubled Em Lewin in Adventureland three years ago, it's fair to say that Kristen Stewart's role as Bella Swan in the Twilight series has completely taken over her CV. Just as Emma Watson signed up for The Perks of Being a Wallflower in a bid to avoid being typecast after playing a pivotal character in a hugely successful film franchise, Stewart seems to have agreed to star in On The Road to try to break away from her vampire fame and increase her tweenage fanbase to include more mature cinemagoers.

Such motivations are understandable and, since Jack Kerouac's novel is widely considered to be an American classic, On The Road might have seemed a smart move on the face of it. However, this adaptation directed by Walter Salles is simply dull and uninspiring and surely won't do much for Stewart's career, other than demonstrate that she's happy to perform nude.

Sam Riley plays Sal Paradise, a writer figure who Kerouac based on himself. When Sal's path crosses with the hedonistic Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), he finds himself drifting into a life of endless orgies, marijuana, alcohol and hitch-hiking Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sal finds this lifestyle of The Road attractive and idolises Dean for making him a part of it. However, Dean is a man who does what he wants for his own selfish pleasure, rather than considering the needs or wants of others.

Playing his two wives Marylou and Camille are Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst respectively. Marylou, at only 16, is barely an adult and Camille, with two children of her own fathered by Dean, is trapped by parenthood. Dean sees both whenever he wants, playing them off against each other. He shares Marylou with his friends, as if she were a cheap toy and leaves Camille at home to nurse their babies, without any support, emotional or otherwise.

Stewart and Dunst both make the most of their roles, with some very competent acting, but their characters are let down by superficial script. Although they are blatantly wronged by Dean, it's difficult to empathise with them. By rights, they should be the two most likeable characters, but we don't really warm to anyone.

One by one, Dean's merry band of drifters begin to seek some sense of normality, giving the film a rather loose coming-of-age theme. There is a vague sense of morality, but it's easy to look past this message and focus purely on the endless sex and partying.

Jose Rivera has had the unenviable task of cutting down Kerouac's novel and writing the screenplay for the film and in doing so, the story has lost some of the anecdotes which make it a more rounded (and interesting) tale. Yet at two hours, we can't suggest adding more scenes, the film is unbearably long as it is - some books just aren't meant to be movies.

Much of the interest in the original novel was due to Kerouac himself. However, the story is just too autobiographical to make the translation into film. It's a rather rambling work - few lives, let alone Kerouac's, have a coherent plot to them. Things just happen and in a random order, sometimes over and over again. You can get away with this in a literary work, but as a film, there needs to be some kind of thread running throughout, however slight. Even the film's gonzo waster cousin of a movie, the psychedelic and bizarre (but utterly brilliant) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had something resembling a plot. When you watch On The Road, you're largely left wondering what the point is and struggling to see an end in sight. It feels very much like a never-ending work.

There are plenty of beautiful shots of rolling American countryside in between Sal's adventures and these are truly stunning, but with a $25 million budget, you would expect the film to at least look good. The problem is, the fancy camerawork and adequate acting just aren't enough on their own to actually make the film be good. The frequent nudity isn't enough to make this film interesting, it seems repetitive and drags. Still, it's bound to make its mark in film history as "that-one-where-K-Stew-got-her-kit-off". Not exactly a fitting tribute to an iconic book.

On The Road was released on 12th October 2012.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)

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