On the Road Is Finally Becoming a Movie, and the First Trailer Has Arrived

Slate's Culture Blog
March 12 2012 9:00 AM

Trailer Critic: On the Road

A still of Kristen Stewart in the first trailer for On the Road

I have never understood the argument that On the Road is "unfilmable." Sure, Jack Kerouac's career-making book is voice-driven and essentially plotless—really a memoir as much as a novel (and the former genre, as I wrote here a couple weeks ago, does seem more resistant to adaptation than the latter). Still, On the Road is a decidedly visual piece of writing, and its imagery could not be more cinema-friendly: young, attractive people driving cars, dancing in jazz clubs, and sleeping with each other. (Kerouac, for what it's worth, hoped it would be brought to the screen: He wrote Marlon Brando in 1957 and asked the actor to play Dean Moriarty, suggesting himself as the co-lead, in the role of Sal Paradise, the book's very autobiographical narrator.)

David Haglund David Haglund

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

Now, Francis Ford Coppola, who bought the rights to the book in 1979, has finally shepherded an adaptation to the screen, serving as executive producer, with Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) directing, and Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund, and Kristen Stewart in the leading roles.


Riley, who was excellent as Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis in the so-so Control, certainly looks the part of Sal Paradise. But is that him doing the voiceover? If so, why does he sound 60 years old? And will the movie be as dependent on that voiceover as this trailer is? I hope not—though some Terence Malick-style narration might work well. (With any luck, Salles watched Badlands a few times while he was working on this.) 

And there are some encouraging signs, too—like that supporting cast: Kirsten Dunst, Terrence Howard, Elisabeth Moss, and the pretty much always excellent Viggo Mortensen (not to mention Steve Buscemi and Amy Adams, who don't appear in the trailer, but also have roles in the film). The cinematography looks suitably kinetic, and the costumes, sets, and cars evoke the immediately post-WWII period in which the novel is set.

Most striking of all, though, is Kristen Stewart, who steals this trailer from her male co-stars and the famous supporting players. The role of Marylou, the teenaged ex-wife of Dean Moriarty and a "beautiful little sharp chick," in Kerouac's words, should be a rich one, if the adaptation's any good. I'll be very curious to see what Stewart does with it.

On the Road will reportedly premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 3:59 PM The Trailer for Taken 3 Is Here, and Guess Who’s on His Phone Again
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.