As long as it took for this film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s generation-defining novel to come to arrive, it was sure to be met with mixed feelings. Any novel with a following is bound to be judgmental of any interpretation which exists off of the page and outside of the reader’s own imagination, and this is only truer for a piece of literature many hold as nearly holy. I have no impression of the original source material, though I can’t imagine Kerouac imagined a bunch of pretty boy actors playing the roles in a tepidly safe adaptation of what was once a controversial text.
I can almost see the attempt to draw in a specific audience group with the casting choices, and it was nearly brilliant in construction while the execution failed miserably. Casting an actress from Twilight alongside a bunch of Abercrombie models markets the film toward a younger audience, and with the film taking place during the beat generation we are also given a clear example of how unoriginal and uninspired hipsters are. The problem with a film starring a young and attractive cast looking and acting similar to the target audience is that it then has to appeal to that target group. Kerouac’s novel may have been youthful and exuberant, but the source material seems to have aged with him and the narrative in this film is so lifeless that it nearly has one foot in the grave.
Sam Riley heads up the cast as Sal Paradise, our narrator and a struggling author who finds his voice through a relationship and random adventures with the selfish whirlwind of personality, Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hudlund). They travel cross country, occasionally with Dean’s first young wife, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), in tow. There are times that Marylou is along, even as they travel for Dean to visit his second and current wife (Kristen Dunst) and children. We are meant to dismiss Dean’s abysmal irresponsibility, because he is a free spirit. In the end, Sal just comes of a putz for trusting Dean or ever thinking he is capable of friendship without needing something in return.
The cast is impressive, although mostly under-used. All people seem to be talking about is Stewart’s “bold performance,” which is code for her being willing to show her breasts and taint the image which fueled her career in another adaptation of a popular book. Stewart is good for reasons other than nudity, which is actually tasteful and limited. The cast also includes Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss, and Viggo Mortensen, though none are used as much as they should be. Each scene with one of these actors is heightened, until we are forced to return to the story of Dean and his shadow.
The Blu-ray release includes deleted scenes and a trailer.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Disc Features: 3/10