But not to be so uncharitable. It’s an easy crack to make, because you’re not part of the ill-defined Facebook Generation if you haven’t seen quotes from On the Road splattered over profile walls and Twitter feeds, repurposed as Chicken Soup for the College Soul. Statistics show that right this minute, three high school sophomores are reading the line about “the mad ones” and scribbling it into the margins of their notebooks. Obviously, the science is thin and impossible to prove, but that’s how it goes these days.
Not that any of that should have an impact on the quality of the long-awaited adaptation of the famous Jack Kerouac novel, which has been attempted time and time again since the 1950s. This first trailer, released over the weekend, feels like some kind of promising. Directed by Walter Salles of The Motorcycle Diaries, it looks to be a gorgeously stylized version of Kerouac’s homage to the beat generation, filled with all types of beautiful people and jazzy scores. Sam Riley will play Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s alter-ego) while Garrett Hedlund will be Dean Moriarty, his partner in crime. There’s plenty of other big names making extended appearances and cameos, like Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortenson, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Elisabeth Moss and Terrence Howard.
Still, what do you make of a film-ification of a novel that was originally written as a summary of the times, not a period piece? We’re 60 years passed as a country since the release of Kerouac’s novel, enough for everything in America to have changed and then some. A movie like this could feel like the exhumation of a corpse rather than a revival — a paean for “the good old days,” marketed to crowds nostalgic for a time before their parents were alive. Sure, that’s being cynical, but check out the bulk of the YouTube comments about how Katy Perry led them there after Tweeting a link to the trailer along with, “The last quote in this trailer (which is from the book) inspired FIREWORK.” That quote, by the way, is the one about “the mad ones.” (This black-hearted cynic rests his case.) Let’s make some new art instead of cannibalizing a perfectly fine one! On the Road is out on May 23.