Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" has been heralded for decades: an important novel, a cultural signifier, a sociological landmark, a cracking good read. It's also been considered "unfilmable" -- but now Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries," "Dark Water") brings the novel to the screen, and "The Motorcycle Diaries" turns out to be a pretty good template for understanding how Salles has shot his adaptation. "On the Road," like 'Diaries,' is scenic and episodic, full of youth's passion but with a shade of the future yet to come dimming the brightness of its vision, as a charismatic young man travels with another young man, saying little but watching everything along the way.
If there's one thing that wounds "On the Road," it's that the film is full of things -- having sex, doing drugs, being free -- that are far more enjoyably experienced by one's self as opposed to watching other people enjoy them on screen; even when the free-living, debauched events on screen are at their highest --or lowest, like when the group smashes medical inhalers to make Benzedrine tea, or when a heroin addict nods off with his child in his comatose arms -- you still feel pressed against the glass on the other side of the shop window from the goodies.
Kristen Stewart is Dean's paramour Marylou, and seeing her liberated from the silly straitjacket of servile moping she has to perform in the "Twilight" films is a huge relief. (A friend joked that Stewart's character's bed-hopping, nudity and overall sexual licentiousness were just the universe compensating her for all the chaste charmlessness she has to embody as Bella in the "Twilight" films.) And Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams play the book's stand-ins for William S. Burroughs and Jane Vollmer with drugged-up grit and gravel, a cautionary tale about to happen. (A spacey-eyed Adams gets the film's best non-sequitur when the pilgrims drop in for a visit, brandishing a broom and heading for the yard: "Excuse me: lizards").