Apparently the film is already drawing criticism, although Friedman doesnt use any sources for his report other than an unnamed "Beat expert," and a few Google searches didnt find anything other than message board whining.
Here's the essence of the complaints:
For one thing, no one is pleased about the casting. Sam Riley, star of “Control,” the film about Joy Division, has been cast as Sal Paradise aka Kerouac. He’s not American, for one thing. And doesn’t look much like Kerouac. Garreth Hedlund is set to play Dean Moriarity/Neal Cassidy. Kristen Stewart and Kirsen Dunst are signed to play their love interests.
None of this is winning over Kerouac experts. Plus, those who’v eread Jose Rivera’s script are fairly chagrined about it. “On the Road” is very much language and poetry. Reports on the script are that as one Beat expert says, They don’t get it.”
Now, we'll ignore the fact that among the many typos in Friedman's article is the misspelling of Cassady's name. So, okay, yeah—we have these rumors about experts being dissatisfied with a script that doesnt "get it" and actors who dont look the part, but you wonder how accurate the second-hand reporting of rumors can be when the reporter didnt care enough about research to get a main character's name spelled right.
But thats beside the point. The truth is that they've been trying to make an "On The Road" film for decades, and every time Francis Ford Coppola has gotten close (he's owned the rights since 1979), not only has it fallen apart, but oodles of Beat fans have come out of the woodwork to criticize the approach, the director, and mostly the cast.
So while this comes as no surprise, none of it makes any sense. Personally, I always thought Billy Crudup and Woody Harrelson should be cast as the Kerouac/Cassady duo, but I realize they're getting a bit too old. And at first I was admittedly disappointed by the ages of the actors, but we have to remember that Kerouac was in his mid-20s during the action of the novel (which was written over the course of a few years, from 1951 to 1956, by which time Kerouac was already almost 35 and well on his way to the more bloated and exhausted-looking face America came to adore and admonish), and Cassady was only 21 when the adventures began.
Jose Rivera wrote "The Motorcycle Diaries," about the early road trips of Che Guevara (directed by Salles), and all I can say regarding a script about "On The Road" is that if we expect it to be like the published book, we're out of our minds—even the published book is very different from the book Kerouac originally wrote, which has only been in print itself for a few years. And the whole point of the novel was to capture the immediacy of the moment—which is where, in fact, Kerouac's entire literary effort was directed. In other words, the book cant be captured on film, so the only way to remain "true to the book" in any real sense, if you ask me, is to produce something new—so "getting it" is an irrelevant remark.
And many people might forget (or not realize) that Kerouac wasnt all that "American," either. I think it's a great idea to have a Brit play the part, because Kerouac had a slightly-off American accent anyway, like he had to really try. He grew up in the small and insular French-Canadian community of Lowell, Massachusetts and started speaking English at about the age of 6. An early, short version of "On The Road" was actually written in French (or, rather, the version of Quebecois that he spoke as a child). A somewhat clumsy, too-rounded American accent would be perfect for the part.
And it works on a more spiritual level, as well. The reason Kerouac was so obsessed with finding America was because he didnt feel like he was a part of it. In many ways, "On The Road" is a postcolonial novel, about a foreign outsider trying to give this great land a kind of meaning he could identify with, which wasnt easy in the post-war U.S., amidst the traditional expectations and growing paranoia of millions of proud fans of the country. So I absolutely love the idea of casting an Englishman in a role that some "experts" feel is owned by America.
Finally, as the author of an autobiographical novel about the American landscape and the dreams it gives birth to, which has, as one of its key later scenes, a chance encounter with a Beat legend who performed with Kerouac himself, I couldnt be more thrilled with the idea of Kristen Stewart, of "Twilight" fame, being caught up in what might be another resurgence in popularity of Kerouac and the ideals and motifs of Beat literature. It's been hard enough trying to shop this novel at a time when fiction genres are dominated not only by what seems obviously and immediately commercially appealing to millions of people all at once (which introspective, first-person novels about life experiences sometimes arent), but by vampires and other fantasy tales, and it would be nice to be on the good side of a cultural trend for once.
So, damn the rumors—I'm really excited about this film, and if it does actually make it to theaters without becoming another in a long line of failed attempts to bring Kerouac's already too often mis-characterized book to the big screen, I'll be first in line.
Articles and excerpt from "The Light That We Can See" can be found here.