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On The Road Comes To Cannes: Divides Critics, But Isn’t That Just So Kerouac?

The cast of On The Road at the photocall in Cannes

Yesterday it was Pitt and Liotta. But today, young Hollywood came to the Cannes Film Festival.

Trailing a wave of high expectations, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Riley,Viggo Mortensen and Garrett Hedlund are in town for the premiere of On The Road -and a little face-time with the press.

Adapted from Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical, road-trip-cum-voyage-of-discovery novel, this long-awaited film is also competing at the festival for the coveted Palme d’Or.

The cast were all smiles at the photo call this morning, and they had good reason. At the film’s screening earlier, literally thousands of journalists and film writers queued for a seat in the Lumiere cinema.

The sheer speed of Twitter meant reactions came online quickly. Some loved it, some didn’t – and some couldn’t decide one way or the other.

Jake Coyle at the Associated Presstweeted “On the Road, a beautifully crafted, largely fine film that, alas, nevertheless lacks the fire”. Time’s Richard Corliss decided “the movie lacks the novel’s exuberant syncopation — it misses the beat as well as the Beat. Some day someone may make a movie worthy of On the Road, but Salles wasn’t the one to try.”

Damon Wise from Empire Onlinedescribed it as “about as good as it could be; lovely to look at but episodic and verbose”, while Hitfix’s Guy Lodge said, “To state the obvious, On the Road is clearly not unfilmable. Sam Riley might be, though.” The Independent declared Stewart’s scenes were “electric” but dismissed the film as little more than “cliche”.

GQ’s Logan Hill wrote, “Walter Salles’ episodic ramble On the Road never catches fire. Almost feels like a melancholy critique of the novel. Pretty, though …”. The Guardian’s Xan Brooks called the film a “stylish, tiresome loop of pretty faces [and] chambray romanticism. But oh, Viggo Mortensen is terrific.”

Filmstagewrote, “It’s fun to wander and live and be merry and then sad and profound and high. Not as fun to watch unfortunately.” Brad Brevet reviewed it as “Well made but otherwise empty”, but singled out Hedlund’s performance as “the best I’ve seen him” and Kristen Stewart’s “brave performance in what comes across as her bold journey beyond the dull and lifeless character she portrays in the Twilight movie.”

Total Film, said “On The Road was decent, but like the material, episodic with a hard to care for lead. Kristin Stewart on mold breaking form.” Indiewire gave it a mixed reception, praising the “incredible” work of the film’s cinematographer, Eric Gautier, while bemoaning that “no matter how beautiful the scenery flickering by through the window, eventually you just want to get out of the goddamn car.”

But just as Kerouac’s book split critics at the time – notably Truman Capote when he dismissed Kerouac’s opus saying, “That’s not writing, it’s typing” – a film like On The Road, so steeped in the context of its time and necessarily freeform, was always going to be a matter of personal taste.

Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley riding cars in On The Road

And plenty not only ‘got’ that, they loved it.

Premiere Magazine offered high praise, describing Hedlund and Stewart as great. Jeffrey Wells enthused “Beautifully shot and cut, excitingly performed and deeply felt. It’s much, much better than I thought it would be ..” adding, “Walter Salles’s On The Road is masterful and rich and lusty, meditative and sensual and adventurous and lamenting all at once.”

Anne Thomson lauded the film as “smart, literate, beautiful and episodic”, while Twitch’s Ryland Aldrich said “Salles does a commendable job of capturing spirit velocity of [On The Road] in [an] accessible story.”

Hitfix’s Drew McWeeney, concludes “On The Road has a real heartbeat, and it’s a trip worth making”, and The Hollywood Reporter raptured,” Walter Salles’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s generation-defining novel is vibrantly visualized and features a ‘perfect’ Kristen Stewart.”

After the screening, at a packed press conference, the cast and Walter Salles answered questions. Moderator, Henri Behar, banned “Twilight” questions, although one journalist did ask Kristen Stewart about Robert Pattinson.

Stewart, cast by Salles in 2007, just before The Twilight Saga blew up, said her character ‘Marylou’ “wasn’t rebelling against anything, she was so just being herself.” When asked how she handled the nudity in the film, Stewart replied, “as long as you’re always really honest, there’s never really anything to be ashamed of.’

Viggo Mortensen, who plays William ‘Old Bull Lee’ Burroughs, revealed he read On the Road at 17 and said “reading it again made me realize how pertinent it is to our times.”

Overall though, the buzz in Cannes, according to LA Times’s Steven Zeitchik is a “stronger-than-expected positivity for On the Road”. Perhaps the last word should go to Jerry Cimino, curator for the Beat Museum. Pronouncing On The Road as “nothing short of magnificent”, Cimino sent this message to On The Road’s legion of fans around the world:

“Rest easy, my friends. If you’re like me, you are going to absolutely love this movie. These film makers got it right. They are kindred spirits in the story of The Beats. Kerouac fans will be proud.”

Somewhere, Kerouac is smiling.

On The Road stars Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Terrence Howard, Steve Buscemi, Amy Adams, Alice Braga, Elizabeth Moss and Danny Morgan. It opens across France today and in the UK on September 21.

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