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ON THE ROAD Movie Review

On the Road poster image: © 2012 IFC Films & Sundance Selects.

Release Date: Mar. 22, 2013 || Rated: R || Running Time: 124 min.

It’s been more than fifty years since the now iconic Beat writers smoked and drank their nights away at Village haunts like the Cedar Tavern. And yet, despite extensive changes to the American way of life—and the destruction of their beloved Cedar Tavern—the sentiments of Jack Kerouac‘s famed novel On the Road still resonate today.

Finally brought to the silver screen by director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and screenwriter José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries, Letters to Juliet), On the Road is a beautiful portrait of social and emotional disillusionment starring Sam RileyGarrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten DunstAmy AdamsTom SturridgeDanny MorganAlice BragaElisabeth Moss, and Viggo Mortensen.

Salles’ stirring depiction of “the mad ones”—those for whom ‘life’ was a never-ending odyssey spent in the highs and lows of booze, drugs, and sex—is characterized by its gorgeous visions of the vast American landscape, and its energetic and emotionally-charged performances.

Photo by Gregory Smith. © 2012
Photo by Gregory Smith. © 2012 IFC Films & Sundance Selects.

Riley’s strength as a narrator is due entirely to the incredible empathy with which his ‘Sal Paradise’ (Jack Kerouac) describes those around him. Whether he’s part of the action, or merely watching from behind his black Ray-Ban Wayfarers, Sal’s non-judgment increases the relatability of each character he encounters.

Hedlund wows as ‘Dean Moriarty’ (Neal Cassady), a beguiling bullish*t artist with an affinity for unconventional sexual escapades and egocentric monologues. Once under his spell, it is difficult to dislike him, even as he leaves a growing path of personal damage and destruction in his wake.

Stewart is brazenly captivating as ‘Marylou’ (LuAnne Henderson), Dean’s 16-year-old wife who unreservedly enjoys everything (and everyone) offered by the adventure of her lifetime—and who lacks the naiveté to believe that it can all last forever or that Dean will ever truly change. She stands amiably carefree in contrast to the sincere despair of Dunst’s ‘Camille’ (Carolyn Cassady), Dean’s older and more accomplished second wife. Unable to see Dean’s shortcomings through the haze of love, she tethers her future to his, and reaps only sorrow and heartache in return for her faith.

Photo by Gregory Smith. © 2012 IFC Films & Sundance Selects.
Photo by Gregory Smith. © 2012 IFC Films & Sundance Selects.

On the Road also candidly acknowledges the reality that the lives of Beat men were made possible by Beat women. Stewart, Dunst, Adams (Joan Vollmer), and Moss accurately portray the sexism of Beat life, relegated to (and, in some cases, trapped by) ‘women’s work,’ while the men spent their days getting high and discussing important matters of the mind.

Overall, On the Road is a must-see for period piece aficionados and all who enjoy films characterized by passionate and honest performances.

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Official Website || Facebook || Twitter: @OnTheRoadFilm || YouTube

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The Author

Sarah Katz

Sarah Katz

Born-and-bred New Yorker. Lifelong film & TV lover—from chick flicks, rom-coms, rom-droms, rom-drams, and tweentertainment, to Shakespeare, period pieces, James Bond, fairy tales, and mafia movies.