‘On The Road’: Kristen Stewart Shines in Her First Big Post-‘Twilight’ Role (MOVIE REVIEW)

Kristen's 'On the Road'
The star poses with her costars amid breakup drama.
Since its publication in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s landmark novel On The Road has been a holy grail for filmmakers ranging from Joel Schumacher to Francis Ford Coppola — and finally Walter Salles, whose new adaptation is an unfettered, exuberant look at the early stirrings of the countercultural movement.

Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) stands in for Kerouac, a young writer getting over the death of his father while living with his mother in New York City. Artistically locked and directionless, Sal hangs around with fellow hipster Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) an Alan Ginsberg-like poet, who introduces him to Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a fellow free spirit.

Based on real-life beatnik Neal Cassady, Moriarty lives impulsively, ignoring social norms like putting on clothes when he answers the door, greeting Sal buck naked while his teenaged wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart) sprawls languorously between the sheets. His loose morals, lack of direction and recklessness is the fuel that drives On The Road, perhaps the only counterculture movie with a bebop soundtrack.

When Moriarty and Carlo head to Denver, Sal soon follows, hitching his way cross country. Reuniting with his friends, he is introduced to Moriarty’s new girlfriend, Camille (Kirsten Dunst), one of many women who serenade and titillate Sal and Carlo with sighs of pleasure as they have sex with Moriarty behind closed doors – a recurring scenario in the movie.

Moriarty has parted with Marylou, but not for long. She returns later for more marijuana- and liquor-fueled cross-country trips, and three-way sex with Sal.

(“Spread those knees and let’s smoke some weed,” Moriarty tells her after she hides a bag of pot in her underpants when they’re stopped by a cop.)

Marylou becomes impatient with her husband’s philandering, foreshadowing the sting Sal will feel later when, feverish after some hard partying in a rural Mexican village, he too is abandoned by Moriarty.

A quintessential free spirit, Moriarty discovers that freedom is illusory. Whether by work, family, friends or the impulse to survive, we are all, to some degree, bound by something.

Garrett Hedlund arrived on the scene in 2010’s Tron: Legacy, a misbegotten monstrosity that showed him to be little more than another fair-haired boy with a winning smile. But his follow up in a supporting part as a winsome country singer opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in Country Strong showcased him as that movie’s strongest element.

With On The Road, Hedlund proves he is not just another pretty face. Moriarty is a plum role in which he effortlessly projects all the charisma and insouciant charm the character demands, highlighted with a trace of tragedy. As he raucously tells Sal about an orgy, he works up a joy that is as transient as the carnal encounter itself, finishing with a somber, “yeah… yeah…” as the laughter dissipates and his mordant silence leaves us wondering how much of a burden free will carries.

While Moriarty is the heart and soul of On The Road, Sal is its protagonist and conscience. Sam Riley never competes with Hedlund for attention, giving his costar center stage, but circles the action as the eyes and ears of the audience. Riley has demonstrated a wide dramatic range with movies like Brighton Rock and Control, where he played late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. He is a consummate character actor who works gamely within On The Road’s ensemble, providing a discreet yin to Hedlund’s yang.

Kristen Stewart does the best work of her career in On The Road, finally shedding Twilight’s one-dimensional Bella Swan to infuse Marylou with the naive rebelliousness of youth and the heartbreak of unrequited love. With the Twilight franchise finally finished, Stewart is at a crossroad in her career, and the new movie provides her first credible performance since 2007’s Into The Wild.

Although On The Road has long been considered an unfilmable book, credit goes to director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera for proving them wrong. Although the movie is not as engaging as the book, and some will be disinterested by its lack of plot and ambiguous message, to impose a strong narrative drive and tidy character arcs on Kerouac’s novel would do it a great disservice.

Brazilian-born Salles broke out with 1998’s Central Station, which garnered an Oscar nomination for its star, Fernanda Montenegro.
Six years later, The Motorcycle Diaries, chronicling a young Che Guevara’s formative years on a road trip across South America, won an Oscar for Best Song and confirmed Salles as a cinematic force to be reckoned with.

Re-teaming with Rivera, his latest movie exhibits formidable storytelling skills and a candid directorial style, servicing his actors as well as his audience with artistry and honesty.

With On The Road, Salles creates a vivid portrait of youth and spirited abandon that probably won’t resonate with everyone. But then again, the best movies seldom do.

Watch the trailer for On The Road, and then let us know what you think about the movie in the comments section below!

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