‘On The Road’ At TIFF: The Reviews Are In!

From plot to performances, critics weigh in on the Walter Salles-directed flick after its Toronto International Film Festival premiere.

The last time we checked in on what the critical masses had to say about “On the Road,” the reviews that came out of Cannes in May had critics lamenting a lack of genuine emotion, deeming it an overall lukewarm adaptation. Now, thanks to the film’s appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival, which had star Kristen Stewart all excited and appreciative of her fan support, we also have a fresh set of critical eyes from which to glean new observational material.

Judging from the early word out of Toronto, critics are feeling a similar vibe to those who saw the film at Cannes. The pressure to faithfully adapt Jack Kerouac’s classic and beloved beatnik tour de force seems to be a too-steep mountain to climb, despite valiant efforts put forth by cast and crew.

Pack your bags as we drive through the “On the Road” reviews coming at ya from Canada.

Plot Points (Or Lack Thereof)
“In its broad strokes, ‘On the Road’ explores the relationship between aspiring writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and the freewheeling Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). To become a better writer, Sal decides to crisscross the country. One trip he goes solo, another trip he goes with Dean and Dean’s ex-wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart), and on another trip he and Dean head south to Mexico. There are brief interludes at various destinations where the characters drink, get high, and screw around, but no one can ever settle down when the road is calling. But there’s no wisdom or insight to be found on the road in ‘On the Road.’ Kerouac’s novel inspires a sense of wanderlust in the reader. It makes us want to leave our stolid lives behind, and dive into the unknown because we know we’ll be richer for the experience. But Salles’ picture has all the urgency of a slideshow where your friends show you pretty pictures of landscapes and tell you of the crazy times they had.” — Matt Goldberg, target=”_blank>Collider.com

Managing Expectations and Shock Value
“What I wanted from ‘On the Road’ was something that would capture what people love about Beat literature. What I got was a movie that genuinely draws all its pleasures from people speaking painfully affected dialogue and doing lots of drugs and having lots of sex with each other. It’s exactly the parts of life that are better to experience than they are to hear about. It’s all just so much less interesting than you think it is when it’s happening to you, even if — perhaps especially if — you are taking copious notes. As a matter of fact, on a similar note, it’s one of my major theories of modern cinema that your characters had better be extraordinarily interesting if you want me to spend any considerable time in your film watching them get high. It matters not whether it’s meth or benzadrine; watching people do drugs is stultifyingly boring unless the people are extremely fascinating. Whatever Kerouac’s friends were like in real life and however he drew their analogues in the book, the people in the movie are not extremely fascinating. Similarly, there’s a lot of sex in the film and a lot of it is supposed to be daring — look, three people! Look, two men! Look, they’re doing it in the car! But as with the drugs, the handling of the sex is so glib that it’s actually dull.” — Linda Holmes, target=”_blank>NPR.

The Performances
“All of the actors are good. Hedlund of course has the most showy part, Riley carrying the narrative burden. Supporting characters stun: Viggo Mortensen giving his usual all and total depth to a few minor scenes, Amy Adams coming a little unhinged, Kirsten Dunst breaking your heart. And K-Stew can dance! She missed her calling being in the Step Up movies. Yes, what I got out of Kristen Stewart’s performance was one scene where she dances. She’s good in a harrowing teen in crisis role, but seductively comes to life when she moves.” — Fred Topel, target=”_blank>Film.com

Check out everything we’ve got on “On the Road.”