There’s a great challenge in adapting something like On The Road– a huge literary landmark somewhere along the lines of a Catcher in the Rye and Naked Lunch, these are hugely influential texts from in and around the “beat” generation which was a very in the moment sort of thing and stepped in stream of consciousness type writing.
For those reasons, and just the general revere of these books as books many people tend to label them un-filmable. Those other two I mentioned are either languishing in development Hell or spent plenty of time there with interested directors that are never sure how to approach it, or the rights never get secured, etc. Naked Lunch did finally get made into a movie in 1991 by Cosmopolis director David Cronenberg, and the general consensus was that it should have stayed a book, although there is a cult appreciation.
So now comes On The Road, the infamous and legendary Jack Kerouac book finally made into a film starring Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund, and directed by the fellow who did The Motorcycle Diaries, which was about revolutionary Che Guevara before he became the guy with the beret!
So it seems an appropriate director to tackle the challenge. Motorcycle Diaries was received really well. But it looks like On The Road is splitting critics down the middle. Here’s what some notable critics on Rottentomatoes are saying:
“There’s no madness here, no burning, no desperate search for transcendence, no sense of characters on a heroic, continent-crossing quest. Just another sticky, stinky story of boys, being boys. And refusing to become men.” –Steven Whitty
“Salles has made an admirable effort, which – while no roman candle – can be appreciated for its honest ambitions.” –Elizabeth Weitzman
“To Kerouac fans: proceed with caution. The authenticity of the film’s Beat flavor is mild at best. To everyone else: don’t look too deep, and the sexy surface will entertain marvelously for a couple of hours.” –Gabrielle Lipton
So it’s definitely looking like it might fall short of the novel’s heights, but if you can separate the movie from the book, it could be enjoyable.
That might be the best thing that can happen with a movie adaptation that most people think shouldn’t be done in the first place. If nothing else, it’s a step in a more “artistic” direction for Kristen Stewart and shows she has range.
On The Road is only in limited release so far, so check your local listings.