Walter Salles’ On the Road movie premiered last night and the first reviews are starting to come in. The commonly-held view is that it doesn’t disappoint, but then neither does it set you on fire with that transcendental “Beat” energy, (corollary how could it? how is it possible to duplicate the book?), here’s Justin Chang in Variety:
“A classic novel’s long journey to the big screen comes to a gratifying but not exactly triumphant end with “On the Road”, a handsome visual companion to Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation touchstone that seems unlikely to occupy a place of similar resonance in the hearts and minds of those who see it. Evocatively lensed, skillfully made and duly attentive to the mercurial qualities of its daunting source material, Walter Salles’ picture pulses with youthful energy but feels overly calculated in its bid for spontaneity, attesting to the difficulty and perhaps futility of trying to reproduce Kerouac’s literary lightning onscreen.”
and here’s Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter:
“Making a screen version of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” has been an elusive fantasy for numerous filmmakers in the 55 years since the Beat classic was published. Brazilian director, Walter Salles, the man who finally got to realize the dream has done a respectable job of it, and at moments better than that, though the film rarely bursts out to provide the sort of heady pleasures it depicts.” – McCarthy goes on to declare his less-than-satisfactory opinion of “the windy ramblings of the Allen Ginsberg equivalent Carlo Marx” (is he referring to the script here or the acting? – Owen Gleiberman in his review in Entertainment Weekly is a little more generous, referring to “the film’s Allen Ginsberg character played by Tom Sturridge with a postwar-Walt-Whitman-in-New-York boyish sweetness”).
French reviews have been mostly up-beat.
Across the pond, in England, however, the critics have been a tad more skeptical. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian picks up a note of (unintentional?) narcissism – “a good-looking but directionless and self-adoring road movie”, he calls it. Derek Malcolm, in the London Evening Standard, “damns it with faint praise” (“In many ways a pleasing film, the drama seems muted..”)