Finally, after decades, and a discarded letter from Kerouac to Marlon Brando asking him to star, somebody made On the Road into a film. I watched it last night, and I made it through the whole thing, which is shocking. I didn’t think I’d make it to the 10th minute. But what propelled the film for me was three things: Viggo Mortensen as the Burroughs character, Kirsten Dunst as the Carolyn Cassady character, and the shots of “the road,” which may or may not have even been in the U.S. and Mexico. (I think the director Walter Salles used Canada and Argentina as stand-ins.) I read an interview with Carolyn Cassady today (she was 89 at the time) where she said the actors they cast to play the Kerouac and Neal Cassady characters were “wimpy” compared to the strong, athletic men these two were. And she said Garret Hedlund was boring and self-absorbed when he came to see her, reading her pages from his own journal. He’s probably the weakest link in this film. Each time he came on screen, I winced. And he looks nothing like Cassady. I was thinking he could’ve at least combed his hair the same way, into a pompadour, or put some kind of pomade in. Something to make him appear authentic. He smirks through this movie, whereas the Neal Cassady I’d seen in footage seemed humble, soft-spoken.
Sam Riley as Kerouac is a little better, but as Carolyn said, he looks nothing like Kerouac. Neither of these actors appear as good-looking as these men were in the ’40s. Riley does do a good job of emulating Kerouac’s speaking voice in the voiceovers of text, though. But why does every film on the Beats have to have text voiceover? Howl did the same thing. It’s never said with the same emotion it holds on the page, or read by its original writer, so let it go, screenwriters/directors/executive producers.
The Ginsberg character was also wince-worthy in this thing, and what happened to Kristen Stewart’s lines? Did they just cut all of them and put her in bed giving handjobs or blow jobs? Amy Adams was good in her brief time as Joan Vollmer, Burroughs’ amphetamine-addicted wife, scraping lizards off trees in the middle of the night. Elisabeth Moss was also good in her brief time as Galatea Dunkel/Helen Hinkle. This movie would’ve been great if the two main characters were subtracted and it was left to the women and Viggo to carry.