On the Road Reviews
The acting in here is pretty good. Though the standout for me is really Kristen Stewart, who has been noticeably improving in this department since she's been taking more challenging roles.
There is a duality to these guys' life, particularly Dean's. The adventures are wild and crazy, sometimes even enviable. But it is debatable if Dean is ever actually really happy. Sal seems to have more of a balance. He knows how to have fun (if drugs and one-night stands are your thing) but he also knows how to adjust to regular society and be a decent human being. But that is probably why he, and everyone else, is so drawn to a guy like Dean. Dean has no limits and cares for no one really but himself, when it comes down to it. He comes and goes when he wants to. It's a good character study because you just wonder how Dean has made it all this time without contracting something. But I honestly didn't really care for these characters too much.
An okay road trip movie about a bunch of hedonistic 20-somethings.
There's a lot going on in this film, and I was engaged so thoroughly that I couldn't leave my seat to either go get myself another drink or to use the bathroom because I was too into the film. I adore it and it is one of those rare films that makes me feel alive while watching it. It's not just a generational film of its time, but it still resonates deeply and emotionally.
The story begins in the late 1940's with a young writer named Sal Paradise, who is introduced to a young man named Dean Moriarty, a strange, free-spirited, promiscuous rebel, along with his 16-year-old wife, Marylou. From that first meeting, Sal's young life is turned completely upside down by Dean, even though Sal knows that he's being manipulated by Dean and even calls him a conman.
But, Dean's zest and vigor for life is something that Sal and his friends cannot stay away from, which over the course years takes them on a strange cross country journey meeting strange people, falling in and out of love, sex, drugs, jazz music, philosophical and existential discoveries, a rebellion against the social norms of the time, hopes, dreams, and everything in between.
The storyline is what really had me glued to my seat the whole time. I know that I'm really into a film when I can't even pause it to go take a piss, and this is one of those films that actually pulled off that feat. My description of the plot is far shorter than what the film actually presents, but it's something I feel you should watch and experience to absorb all the details, people, and places it shows the viewer.
It's a story about living life to the fullest and not giving a damn about how society dictates how you should live it, even if it means fiercely rebelling against it. It's also a wild ride that explores the ups, downs, ugly parts, and weird parts of life as young people try to grow up and find their place in the world. In a sense, it's not just about living life, but also about growing up. Hell, there are plenty of other themes to discover as well, if you look hard enough.
The acting is also pretty damn good, including by some performers I wasn't expecting to be any good, like Kristen Stewart, in her performance as Marylou. Hell, there's a whole cast of talented people this film managed to nab, all of whom deliver great performances.
But, the best performances go to Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty and Sam Riley as Sal Paradise. The two actors fully absorbed themselves into their characters, and these are performances that I'm unlikely to forget any time soon because I was so engrossed by their exhilarating performances. They made me believe and I couldn't help but become invested in the lives of their offbeat characters.
As far as entertainment goes, chances are you will hate this film, like most other people who have watched it due to its slow pacing and what some would describe as "too artsy" feel. It seems that everything people hated about this film, I loved about it. I found myself exhilarated by the characters' journey across America (And later on, to Mexico, as well) with all the beautiful sights to see, the people they met, the various cultural differences they encountered, their pondering of life, the sexual escapades, the drugs, the drama - I was absorbed from start to finish and I was also interested and excited to see where the strange characters would take me next. I never got bored and I loved every minute of the journey.
On The Road is a tremendously underrated indie art house flick. It's hard to recommend this to most people, as it is definitely not for everyone and will be too off-putting and slow for most. All I can say is, if you enjoy indie and art house films, at least give it a chance. I can't guarantee you'll derive enjoyment, even if you're into such films, but I think it's something I think should be seen at least once if you like such films. For me, it's an underrated masterpiece of superb storytelling, beautiful imagery, stunning acting, great music, and interesting themes and ideas that made it absolutely engrossing and enamoring to me.
I tried reading "On the Road" once. I honest to God tried. I couldn't finish it, because it bored me to tears. There's a lot of rambling musings of strung out poets that sound a lot more profound than they are. These are the kind of guys you meet at parties that are sitting in the corner, surrounded by a small crowd of half-plastered listeners, as they drone on about how "light is darkness man. We're all just on a cosmic loom. You're all zombies, man! Somnambulist droves of ambulatory automatons (etc. etc. etc...)" Stuff that sounds deep and meaningful that will end up on some stoner's dorm room poster one day. I was hoping that the film would perhaps capture my attention in a more meaningful way.
It did not. But at least I was able to finish it this time.
I understand that this story is loved by a great deal of people. Its all about experiencing life, letting go of your inhibitions, finding true freedom, yadda yadda. What bothers me the most is that through the whole meandering 2-hour runtime, our main character never has any real goal, except for a vague search for Dean's father, and from beginning to end, none of the characters really change all that much. Maybe that's all fine and good for a story that is "like real life," and this just captures a few moments in time, but for crying out loud, this is a movie, and we need SOMETHING to hold on to to keep us invested in this plot. We only seem to jump from meet up to meet up between Dean and Sal, where they then proceed to get wasted, talk to each other in ways that no humans actually speak, listen to music, get seriously lit up, then have an orgy.
Maybe its a metaphor for the free-flow of creativity. These little wispy nuggets of inspiration come careening out of the infinite and onto the page, seemingly from nowhere, and we all just need to hear about it in a movie. Ya dig?
It's not all bad, though. The movie is filmed very well, particularly the sequences when they are traveling. These scenes actually do make me want to pack up and hit the road, just for the feeling of an open highway and unknown destination. That IS fun. I get that.
The music was subtle and beautiful, orchestrated by the talented Gustavo Santaolalla (Into the Wild, Brokeback Mountain, The Last of Us) and accompanied the travel sequences well.
Garrett Hedlund as Dean channels an early 90's Brad Pitt (which is interesting, considering that at one time, Brad Pitt was in talks for this very role.) He's very charismatic and charming, but also kind of a sleazy weasel. That's fun to say.
There is a surprisingly strong performance by Kirsten Dunst, of all people. I've always had a soft spot for her since I saw "Drop Dead Gorgeous" years ago, and Jumanji before that, but I hadn't seen her in anything recently, so that was a welcome surprise.
But then... there was Kristen Stewart. Oh, Kristen. When will you make a good movie? Yes, you were better in this than in Twilight, I'll give you that. But my goodness, you are not great at this acting thing.
There is also a disappointing and inexplicably weird role by Viggo Mortensen. At one point, he strips down and climbs into some kind of cupboard in the woods, claiming it has healing properties. Meanwhile, Amy Adams uses a broom to sweep lizards out of a tree. Wasn't quite sure what to do with that.
This is not a great movie. I insisted on giving it a fair chance, but it's not any better than the book, and it made for a somewhat meandering waste of time. It looks nice, and wasn't terribly acted by about half the cast, but you can find a better way to spend an evening. Check out Game of Thrones or something. Have you watched True Detective yet? You should, it's super great.
If there's a message then maybe it's that the road is escape. Keep moving and you don't have to face your realities, but you can't stay on the road forever. I've not read the book in many years but could imagine doing so again. I don't expect to watch this film again.