A half century ago, Jack Kerouac had already been coast to coast and even set sights on overseas travel. It took many attempts and years of edits before On the Road reached the bookshelves. Initial reviews were positive, but misplaced. In a 1957 New York Times review, David Dempsey wrote that it is no longer “fashionable for the young and weary–creatures of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald–simply to be “lost.” Generally, the Beats were discounted by the mainstream. By the time Kerouac reached fame, he had already written a dozen or so books that were then published back to back as if the author had written them over night.
Adapting On the Road for the big screen was not easy. After years of development with Francis Ford Coppola, billionaire director Walter Salles has created an original perspective of the Beat Generation by combining the uncensored story of the original scroll with the character names of the well known book. Other reviews of the film have been mixed between praise by Kerouac enthusiasts and criticisms similar to 1957 when many felt the young were complaining too much and producing too little.
There’s a little bit of everything in this film including Benzedrine inhalers, marijuana, Proust quotes, jazz, long roads of America, and a whole lot of sex. Does the viewer have to have some awareness of Kerouac and the Beat Generation to really enjoy the film? It depends. Initially released in France, the film inspired many to travel and that in of itself is an accomplishment. Although slightly biased, this reviewer gives four out of four stars across the board. The performances by Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen were strong, along with the “kicks” covered from beginning to end.