Tuesday, 6 November 2012

'On the Road' review:

When Walter Salles' coming of age road movie 'The Motorcycle Diaries' came out nearly a decade ago I would have still been a teenager. Full of idealism and youthful enthusiasm - eager to help change the world and still certain that anything was possible. I only had to want it. That's probably why I loved that movie at the time. I haven't seen it since, but it's frozen in my memory not only as something hopeful, optimistic and humanistic, but also as a very fine piece of filmmaking. I'd hesitate to watch it again though, in my current state as a bitterly disappointed old man, as Salles' similarly themed 'On the Road' - in spite of some similar ingredients and equally luscious cinematography - left me bored and irritated.

Likewise inspired by a revolutionary autobiographical novel and set during a time of youth-powered social change, 'On the Road' is, of course, based on Jack Kerouac's generation defining book of the same name, with Sam Riley playing author surrogate Sal. 'Tron: Legacy' star Garrett Hedlund plays his wild and charismatic friend Dean (one of cinema's all-time assholes), whilst an impressive supporting cast, that includes Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Terrence Howard, Elizabeth Moss, Steve Buscemi, Alice Braga, Amy Adams and Kristen Stewart, portray the various drifters and oddballs they encounter on their various trips across the breadth of the US - from California to New York.

This isn't a movie about one uneventful road trip of empty hedonism in the company of unconscionable douchebags, but a movie containing a half-dozen such interminable cross-country jaunts. It's the tale of a non-entity following around a horrible jerk, laughing at his jokes and trying to so hard be his best friend. If it weren't for some of the supporting players, the whole thing would be as unwatchable as it is overlong. There is only so much time you can spend willingly in the company of self-important hipsters as they drink and drive and screw. The characters are having a far better time than the audience, that's for sure. Towards the end of the film Sal begins to write down the events of the past several hours on his typewriter, frantically getting down every detail of Dean and his wild exploits. "Thank heavens he wrote all this down!" I thought to myself. It'd have been such a shame if the world never knew that all this happened.

Am I simply too old and jaded for this story of young people being all-young-and-stuff? Would I feel the same about that earlier film if I saw it today as a 27 year-old? Or is Salles' latest simply the hollow and vain thing it seems to be? I would like to think the latter, but there is no way of knowing until I revisit 'The Motorcycle Diaries'. Something 'On the Road' has ensured I am loath to do any time soon.

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