Thursday, December 5, 2013


Allen Ginsberg before he's Allen Ginsberg goes to university and meets Lucien Carr who shows him how to be Allen Ginsberg. Lucien's a ne'er do well whose grasp on his continued studies is fraying to a single strand as he's busy pissing off the gay boffin who writes all his papers for him. Meanwhile we get to meet young Bill Burroughs and Jack Kerouac before they were themselves, as well. The film begins with an image of a murder and will circle around to it while we find out all about the first few sentences of this review. The rest is hysteria. Well, almost.

Allen Ginsberg is the mightymorphinmonstermuse of the beat poets. Howl, his Origin of Species or General Theory of Relativity, is strolled around by whispering pilgrims whose every utterance is lore. Here, he's a bloke with trouble in his family and the highest prospects imaginable as soon as he gets it all going. So when his combustibility meets the spark there should be a great refulgence. Well, would you settle for an overplayed riff on Henry Miller in the uni library that leaves him grinning like an ol' goofball? Actually, that's probably quite realistic but it is at odds with what he's just seen.

Dane Dehaan, so quietly strong in Chronicle, plays Lucien Carr. His library stunt, jumping on a desk and reciting a naughty passage from Tropic of Cancer like a bohemian in a school play might also be true to the moment but it comes across as ill-tuned and fruity. He's like the stunter that every campus has, the guy who loudly proclaims his ambition to father more abortions or grins as he points out some glaringly obvious political point, the guy who is thought a complete dickhead by all the guys, admired by a very few of the girls and whose appearance on the scene is more likely to birth groans than backslaps. And even back in the 40s he wouldn't be both known as this type and still elicit the hmphs and well reallys he gets in this scene. Even if he really did it just rings false now.

I've read reviews of this film that complain about the casting, concentrating on Daniel Radcliffe as Ginsberg. I have no problem with Radcliffe in the role. He's perfectly believable. It's Dehaan that troubles. It might well be the writing but his muse to the Ginz just comes across as a prissy contrarian whose skindeep beauty would strike him off the roll of anyone who knew him for mere minutes.

Not the case with David Kammerer, aforesaid gay mentor played by Michael C. Hall who has been here before but still manages to extend himself. Jack Huston's Kerouac is credible. Ben Foster's Burroughs is in his twenties but speaks like he's in his fifties. Too much 60s and 70s interview footage for research there. I didn't mind that anachronism at all as I'm very fond of the Burrough's persona and Foster does get the voice and intonation pitch-on. Jennifer Jason Leigh provides fruther grounds for not having a more stellar career earlier in life (not a slight: it was her perfection of characterisation at the expense of playing that did her in). The real performance gem though is Elizabeth Olsen who is so grown up and smokey that I stayed through the credits just to make sure it was her. A transformation. More of her on screen, if ye please.

There are moments of strong vision here (the scene of time warping Benzedrine in the night club is very special) but also too much overplayed (cut one shot of the pipes in the faux hanging scene and cut the pretty shared laugh and you have a very edgy laugh instead of a "you guys" moment) but this is a first time director whose better choices impress and whose goofs are permissible.

I was worried about the hollowness of the depiction of the relationship between Car and Kammerer and a late revelatory moment between Carr and Ginsberg but their explanation in the third act, even as voice over, feels like the last piece of a puzzle rather than deus ex machina.

Do go if you just want to see the Beats as protoplasm as this will disappoint you. Its points are gentle, it's just that they're being made by giants that gives the illusion. Not great but well above mediocre.

No comments:

Post a Comment