On a cold and rainy day in Moscow with five hours to kill I was driven to the cinema. When my flick of choice, Time Loop, turned out to be dubbed into Russian I settled for the merely subtitled On The Road. I wasn’t expecting much: the trailer was uninspiring and I was worried about what funny colours and weird angles could do to an already ‘trendy’ book.
But it was good. Both Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund nail it as the homoerotic blood brothers Sal and Dean, with Tom Sturridge brilliant as the most comically pretentious of the musketeers, Carlos. Predictably K-Stew, Dean’s sixteen-year-old wife Mary Lou, is nothing to write home about. The only discernible difference between Mary Lou and Bella Swan is that the former’s hair is a few shades lighter – the face, like a slapped arse, hangs tough. You do slightly wonder where she gets all her changes of clothes and Urban Outfitters sunglasses,whilst on a pretty dirty road trip.
In contrast, Kirsten Dunst manages to make Camille, Dean’s second wife, the most engaging and believable character. Excellent, unexpected performances come from Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams as a drug-addled couple the roadsters spend a few days with.The only things I have seen Amy Adams in are Enchanted and Julie & Julia so it was fun to see her all wild haired and cracked out on benzedrine. Steve Buscemi is also great – when isn’t he great? – as the pervy driver who pays Dean for sex.
Whilst I often found the book too scatty and grotesque to really love it, the film is easy to watch and, aside from a severed toe here and there, aesthetically pleasing. It’s nice that they’ve coupled that with a roadtrip that’s not excessively glamourised – they all look dirty, have to steal their food and ‘gaaas’- and some people just look great with smudges on their face. Die hard Kerouacers will probably have a lot of negative things to say about the adaptation, but for someone who finds the book more than little tiring and self-conscious, the film is a pleasant surprise. Sex, drugs and Sam Riley -what more do you want?