Friday, February 22, 2013

Film Fail: On the Road

One of my first literary loves was the Beat Generation. While I don't read nearly as much Ginsberg, Burroughs, or Kerouac as I once did, I still have fond--maybe even protective--feelings toward them. Protective feelings, that is, when it comes to film adaptations.

It turns out that On the Road, directed by Walter Salles, is a terrible movie. It jumps from scene to scene without much narrative direction except that Sal Paradise and his entourage (or is it more appropriate to call them Dean Moriarty's entourage?) are probably driving somewhere, and the characters never develop or feel much concern for things beyond petty jealousies. There are some well-shot landscapes, but you've got to endure the characters to appreciate those shots. In brief:

The book: Stream of consciousness type introspection concerning an automotive bildung; maybe Schiller's aesthetic education were he driving across the United States. Occasionally Sal is too exuberant or exclaims 'this is America' in the face of injustice in a way that reads too sincerely, but that can probably be forgiven.

The movie: Manages to make the Beats a handful of unsympathetic dilettantes who can't hold a conversation for longer than two minutes. It also makes booze, drugs, and sex look tedious. Though I've never shared the Beats' obsession with Neal Cassidy, at least in their writing I could understand it. In the movie the Cassidy-persona is almost completely one dimensional. Except for a brief moment where he wants to find his father, Dean Moriarty can be summed up quite well by Jimmy McNulty:

We almost walked out after the first hour, but stayed because that was about the time Sal et al. show up at Old Bull Lee's house. That didn't help the film. We did walk out right after Sal and Dean arrive in Mexico, meaning that we left with less than 15 minutes remaining. I'm not sure which is more insulting. Save yourself some time and walk out before you buy a ticket.

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