It’s the perfect time for Jack Kerouac’s iconic autobio- graphical novel On the Road to come to the big screen, despite skepticism that this singular staple of beat liter- ature has finally been sold out. Today we find ourselves in an era of uncertain futures populated by emasculated, cigarette-smoking young men with thick-framed glasses and the women who love them—not unlike the late ’40s.
Screenwriter Jose Rivera’s script is still true to the original as he transforms the meandering first-person narrative of aspiring writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and his journeyman pal Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hed- lund) into a coherent feature. While the film revolves around painfully handsome Dean’s chaotic existential- ism, the women of On the Road, while often discarded by their men, provide essential narrative stability and in- sight. Kristen Stewart plays Marylou, Dean’s teen bride, and the woman has enough hot sex in this role to make up for all five of the relatively chaste Twilight films that made her a star. Stewart blooms onscreen, and direc- tor Walter Salles’ generous takes don’t just cater to the usual heterosexual male gaze. (Garrett Hedlund’s ass? Yes, please!)
While the film’s other wives—Kirsten Dunst’s Ca- mille (Dean’s second spouse) and Amy Adams’ Jane (beside a brilliant Viggo Mortensen playing the boys’ mentor)—linger mostly in their domestic spheres as supporting characters, they transcend their previous literary depictions as victims of masochistic love. And while their stories can be frustrating, especially in contrast to those of their adventure-seeking men, the film succeeds in facing what Dean is running from: pain, all wrapped up in a jazz-infused haze.
By Olivia Saperstein
Photo: IFC Films