Young writer Sal Paradise has his life shaken by the arrival of free-spirited Dean Moriarty and his girl, Marylou. As they travel across the country, they encounter a mix of people who each impact their journey indelibly.
Shaken by the death of his father and discouraged by his stalled career, writer Sal Paradise goes on a road trip hoping for inspiration. While traveling, he is befriended by charismatic and fearless Dean Moriarty and Moriarty's free-spirited and seductive young wife, Marylou. Traveling across the American southwest together, they strive to break from conformity and and search the unknown, and their decisions change the very course of their lives. Written by
The On The Road novel has inspired numerous readers, myself included to take an American road trip. Will the film have the same effect? I sincerely doubt it. And herein lays the problem. Whilst the book takes the reader on an exuberant, spirited journey full of life, the film puzzlingly slows the pace right down and presents a muted, almost depressed version of the same story.
This is best illustrated by the presentation of the character of Dean Moriarty. He should be the driving force of the story, pushing the storyline on with his crazed excitement for the good and bad in life. On the printed page he can barely speak fast enough to get all his thoughts out. However in the film he huffs and puffs his way from one scene to the next, speaking in a laconic drawl, whilst lacking all the charm and charisma that is supposed to make him so alluring. He is the muse for the writer character of Sal, but anyone coming to the film fresh without having read the book, may well struggle to understand why.
The film lacks a rounded sense of the hedonistic side of the journey. The sex is arguably overplayed and whilst there is some drugs and jazz, there is little of the booze. Crucially the characters rarely seem to be having a good time. The film seems to focus on the melodramatic, miserable aspects of the characters lives at the destinations they travel to, but fails to contrast this with wild and exciting times spent on the road. The film does not convey a sense of travelling for the journeys sake; they always just seem to be in the car in order to get to another destination. The only time the film gets anywhere near the free spirited adventure of the book is when the characters reach Mexico in the later stages of the film, but this is too little too late.
I did wonder whether the muted atmosphere of the film was a deliberate ploy of the filmmakers, however the last ten minutes would indicate not. Here we see the character of Sal typing up the notes he has made during the road trips, seemingly franticly typing to capture all the wild, fun, crazy times had on the road. However this does not reflect what the viewer has just witnessed on screen for the past two hours.
Taken on its own terms the film does offer fine cinematography, costume and the look of the time, as well as some decent acting (hence my score of 5 out of 10). However as an adaption of a seminal piece of literature, it deserves to be judged against the source material and in not capturing the true spirit of the book, it is a big fail.
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