The Scene: September* 2012, NYC. An industry screening and cocktail party for On the Road.
Kristen Stewart stood at the front of the crowded screening room in a white oversized dress shirt and black slacks. Director Walter Salles and co-star Garrett Hedlund stood beside her and she shifted nervously while they all spoke to the assembled Academy and Guild members and small pockets of press types like me. The "stop looking at me" vibe, already familiar from her many public appearances rippled outward. One wants celebrities to enjoy the rarified air they breathe, both because success is a beautiful coveted trophy and because careers in the public eye require being looked at to achieve any degree of it. I've written about my discomfort with her discomfort before in a piece that was provocatively called "Jodie Foster is Wrong: On the Mandatory Price of Fame." Yet, through the course of the evening I found myself reconsidering her particulars.
*Yes, this scene I've set took place in September.
I foolishly didn't write about the party immediately thereafter though it happened to be the first awards season get together of 2012 as "the Doyenne of Buzz" Peggy Siegal reminded us in welcome. Even then On the Road (The Movie) seemed to be as lost in time as its protagonists were on the map as they drove and drove, searching for connection, energy, sex, thrills, drugs, music -- anything that felt alive. I knew the film wouldn't open until the tail end of the year in limited release (possibly near you) and I wondered, as I often do, what I'm to do as a film blogger about movies that remain so elusive, movies with strange and distant release dates. Films, like movie stars, are invented to be looked at, but many of them hide despite the best efforts of publicists, filmmakers and journalists who are eager to embrace them and discuss them with moviegoers.
[I worried, even then, that this moody sweaty retro film would be utterly ignored in the crush of Shiny Noisy Awards-Baiting Behemoths. The Adult-Oriented Christmas Multiplex Glut is simply no place for a film that so pointedly craves wide open spaces and young hormonal surges. I'm mystified that the distributor (Sundance Selects) didn't choose to open this one somewhere between July and October, much more comfortable climates for its subject matter and appeal.]
Very briefly at the after-party I spoke with Kristen Stewart about the green splint on her finger which I had mistaken for an oversized piece of costume jewelry. She told me I wasn't the first and held it up, not for my benefit but for her own 'why do people keep mentioning that?' contemplation. I never learned how she'd hurt her finger and that's all we said to each other. But in the little circles that form themselves around The Talent at these industry parties, she seemed perfectly content, if still a bit restless, to be talking to other people in her profession. As I left the party I felt a little bad about my impatience with her celebrity unease because up close and impersonal, I suddenly saw it from a different and I assume clearer perspective. Kristen Stewart isn't, in spirit, a movie star but a rock star. Rock stars are allowed more antagonistic friction between themselves and the world. Sometimes they're even rewarded for it.
...all of those smashed-up guitars.
This is, quite obviously, why Stewart's previous best performance to date was as Joan Jett in The Runaways. And it has to be why she's so mesmerizing again as the untamed teenage bride "Marylou".
Stewart's fame far outstrips that of her male leads but for all her screen magnetism in this particular role, the true star of On the Road is Garret Hedlund as "Dean Moriarty" the object of nearly everyone's affection. Hedlund made his way through that same September party with an eager friendliness in amusing unintentional direct contrast to his co-star. It's remarkably easy to fall in deep like with him and in the film it's impossible not to fall in deep love. Were On the Road to be more widely seen, Hedlund's explosive sexuality as Dean coupled with the quality of his acting would make him an instant 'cast him in everything!' sensation. On the Road doesn't always work but Hedlund's star turn definitely does.
I recently screened the film a second time and left with the same impression. The same impression that the film wisely underlines. The classic book and this film version both conclude with a confessional mantra:
I think of Dean Moriarty. I think of Dean Moriarty. I think of Dean Moriarty."
I dare you to see the film and leave thinking of anything else.