On the Road

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
On the Road Movie Poster Image
Copious sex and drugs in boring adaptation of great book.
  • R
  • 2012
  • 124 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Characters more or less drift around, indulge in iffy behavior, and occasionally decide to "grow up" or move on. Lessons aren't learned as a result of anything, and there aren't really any "arcs" to the characters.

Positive Role Models & Representations
The main character becomes a successful writer but earns his success through debauchery, problematic behavior, and mostly passive observance of events and other people in his life. He rarely seems to work hard or learn any lessons. This is doubly true for the secondary characters.

Arguing and the threat of violence. Characters often steal things, ranging from food to cars.


The main characters each end up sleeping with more than one partner. Brief female toplessness and naked male bottoms. Women get pregnant. Kissing and sex scenes are shown, including one that's pretty graphic and an attempt at a threesome. Very strong sexual innuendo is heard throughout, including detailed stories (one about an "orgy").


Language is constant and colorful. Words include "f--k," "s--t," "piss," "c--k," "muff," "goddamn," "a--hole," and "God" (as an exclamation).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The main characters are almost constantly drinking and smoking cigarettes, and they take other kinds of drugs fairly often. They try pot in one long sequence. No addiction is overtly shown, with one exception: The minor character "Old Bull Lee" is shown to be a junkie, with track marks littering his arms.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bywonder dove September 23, 2013

Don't bother...

On the Road was a big disappointment even though it had a great cast, it seemed like it tried too hard and most of it was very boring, it was too long. I keep h... Continue reading
Adult Written byShivom Oza July 15, 2013

On The Road (2012) Review by Shivom Oza – Directionless

2/5 Stars

Aspiring writer Sal Paradise gets affected deeply upon the arrival of his 'liberated' friend Dean Moriarty and his young wife Marylou. The... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old July 25, 2013

NOT for kids!!!

After the first 30mins watching this I knew it wasn't suitable for kids, the language, the copious amount of sex, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes w... Continue reading

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 ...

  • Families can talk about On the Road's smoking, alcohol, and drug use. What causes these young people to consume so much? What problems does it cause? What are the consequences (if any)?

  • 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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love road trips

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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