After many years, and many unfruitful trials, Jack Kerouac's generation-defining semi-autobiographical novel On the Road finally got its chance to shine on the big screen. First of all, it's crucial to note that the book is not easily adaptable, and the task might be hard even for an experienced filmmaker such as Walter Salles, who directed another road-trip film The Motorcycle Diaries back in 2004. Although there may be many accusations against the uneven storyline, in the visual sense On the Road is definitely a thing of beauty. Many of the places seen through the eyes of the novel's protagonist come alive and look stunning.
Speaking about the book, it has an exceptionally rapid pace, uncommon writing style, and extremely specific way of showcasing the whole reading experience. Thus, with those unmistakable qualities, it gains momentum. In a sense, it devours the reader with its addictiveness and gloriously tempting emotional sensations. It's often said that it's not the story that really counts, rather the spellbinding and burning energy, which shouts out of the novel's pages. While the readers may not remember most of the content, they will surely recall its electrifying power.
Unfortunately, the movie's hit-and-miss plot components don't share the same effectiveness. Sal Paradise's (Sam Riley) adventitious journey isn't as appealing as it should be. There are too many longueurs and sudden, perfectly avoidable, moments of stagnancy. However, the film stays truly relevant to the memorable story presented in the novel. After his father's death, Sal meets a charismatic, handsome, rebellious, up-to-no-good guy named Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) - a perfect example of the Beat culture - and his 16 year-old, moody, and very straightforward girl Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Under the influence of Dean's turbulent, yet strangely seductive, attitude ‚" and many kids of drugs ‚" Sal decides to grab his bag, and starts a life changing adventure towards self-discovery. The story is depicted in separate fragments, which arrive in a perfect order in time, and reveal most of the journey's ups and downs. While on the road, the protagonist meets many interesting individuals, who are able to bring both joy and sorrow. There is the openly gay poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), Dean's new wife Camilla (Kirsten Dunst), a peculiar, yet intelligent 'teacher' Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen), and his wife Jane (Amy Adams) among others. Indisputably, the main star of the whole show is Dean. His 'I don't care' approach makes him the heart of the party, the guru, the sex-loving egocentric, who, at the same time, is perfectly charming and inviting. He's the guy that your mother told you not to spend time with.
What's missing in the film is Jack Kerouac insightful, sprightly, and galvanizing voice. Even though the book might seem redundant at times, the way Kerouac delivers all of the spiciest details is captivating. In the movie, the events lack its entertaining ability after a while and become annoying. Still, once again, it's important to mention the eye-popping art direction and photography. Without their sensational appeal the movie wouldn't create such a magical aura around itself. To all of this, Walter Salles added a bit of his smooth, stylistic verve, which gives some of the scenes a continuous, uninterrupted flow, strengthening the overall experience. Then there is also the catchy, jazzy soundtrack ‚" without its hip mannerism the film wouldn't possess such enchanting atmosphere.
Garret Hedlund did a great job of portraying Moriarty. He steals every scene he's in, and in the end comes as the brightest star of all. While Sam Riley is rather convincing as Paradise, his character has one major flaw: he stays on the side too much, and proves to be an figure who's not to be experienced, as he should be, but just seen as one out of many other individuals. Kristen Stewart is surprisingly adequate as Marylou, because she presents herself as an actress once again, not a marionette straight out from Twilight.
On the Road probably isn't an adaptation that Jack Kerouac's dear fans had hoped for, but it still brings joy through its tale of a journey of the wildest kind. With its expressive and graphic approach to sex and drugs, and its undisputed rock & roll style, the film rides on the verge of sanity. The 'mad' people of the Beat generation got their kick out of newfound feelings and sensations and, as On the Road ultimately proves, they weren't always pleasant when in contact with reality. And even though On the Road might have some shortcomings, the way it portrays those quaint sensations is its main advantage.