Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 2013. Killer Films, Benaroya Pictures, Outpost Studios, Rose Pictures. Story by Austin Bunn, Screenplay by Austin Bunn, John Krokidas. Cinematography by Reed Morano. Produced by Michael Benaroya, Rose Ganguzza, John Krokidas, Christine Vachon. Music by Nico Muhly. Production Design by Stephen H. Carter. Costume Design by Christopher Peterson. Film Editing by Brian A. Kates. Gotham Awards 2013. Toronto International Film Festival 2013.
Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) is accepted into Columbia University to follow in his poet father’s footsteps and, upon arrival, is immediately swept up in the counter-culture of one student. Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a blond, blue-eyed beauty, immediately bewitches Ginsberg with his rebellious streak and lax moral code, introducing his greener friend to the denizens of the Christopher Street crowd (including a hysterically funny Ben Foster as William Burroughes) and encouraging him to think outside the box. In school, young Allen is learning the proper form and structure of writing good poetry, while on the pulsing streets of New York City mid-World War II, he is experiencing a heightened pace (literally, given all the Benzadrines they take) and fracturing his own identity with his burgeoning honesty about his same-sex feelings. We know this would all lead to the publication of Howl in years to come, but what this ripely appealing film focuses on is actually the crime that preceded the fame of the Beat movement, that of Carr’s stabbing his (possibly) lover-(definitely) stalker (played with unapologetic desperation by Michael C. Hall), a professor who gave up his job to follow Carr around to his various educational institutions and write his assignments for him. Ginsberg, sweetly naïve as he is in the beginning, begins to see over time that what he thought was a free-thinker is actually a sociopath. What we as an audience get to enjoy is a sometimes awkwardly paced but enveloping, charismatic look at a time and place gone by, an era both in literature and culture brought beautifully to life by a dedicated director and a uniformly excellent cast. Radcliffe pulls it all off, the American delivery, the gay awakening, the shyness, without breaking a bead of sweat and no effort showing. The film falls prey to the annoying trend of its era, using intentionally ironic anachronism on the soundtrack to let us know the relevance of the characters it is presenting; its presentation of coming-of-age in a period that is itself discovering new possibilities, however, is irresistible.