A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that On the Road is the first official movie adaptation of Jack Kerouac's legendary 1957 novel. There's lots of sex and drugs, and Twilight's Kristen Stewart can be seen somewhat naked and in many depraved situations. Expect partial nudity (female toplessness and naked male bottoms), sex (including threesomes and a graphic scene of two men having sex), and strong sexual innuendo. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol almost constantly and smoke pot in a few scenes. A minor character is a junkie with track marks on his arms. Language is likewise strong, colorful, and constant, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," and "c--k" throughout. After spending years on the drawing board, the finished movie is really very dull, and despite the K-Stew factor, teens may not even be interested.
What's the story?
Young writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) meets free spirit Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and begins a life of adventure on the road. He also meets Dean's girlfriend, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), and many other beautiful women (Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams), as well as other talented writers Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) and Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen). Sal falls in love, works manual labor jobs, writes, drinks, smokes pot, has sex, and hits the road again. Dean disappears from his life and returns months (or years) later. At the end of it all, Sal believes he has experienced something close to life.
Is it any good?
It's hard to imagine how such an exciting book became such a boring movie, especially since producer Francis Ford Coppola has been trying to make it since 1979. To start, Walter Salles may have been a very bad choice as director. His only previous outing dealing with rebellious youth on the road was the polite, picture-postcard The Motorcycle Diaries, which reduced the volatile Che Guevara to a button-cute romantic lead.
This time, Salles piles on the sex and drugs -- in addition to a grungy, handheld visual style -- perhaps in the vain hope that his movie will seem edgy, but at its core, ON THE ROAD is lifeless and passive. The main character's few active moments are cut short, and it becomes clear that he's simply observing everything as it passes by. The observed characters never spring to life; we never see their point of view. The only burst of life in the movie is Mortensen's frighteningly good bit part as "Old Bull Lee" (a.k.a. William S. Burroughs).
Talk to your kids about ...
How does the movie depict sex? Does love enter the equation? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
How does the movie differ from the novel? What kind of impact did the novel have at the time? Do you think it would be the same if it were published today?
Should a writer observe everything in his life or actively take part in his life? What would a balance of the two look like?
- In theaters: December 21, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: August 6, 2013
- Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Sam Riley
- Director: Walter Salles
- Studio: IFC Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexual content, drug use and language
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love road trips
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.