Emotionally Muted Darlings a Frustrating Romantic Memoir
Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) has come to Columbia University looking to shake up literature, just don’t ask him how he’s going to do it. The writer is immediately intrigued when he meets wildcard student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), the fellow intellectual revolutionary spouting ideas he immediately responds to. Carr opens Ginsberg’s eyes to a world he’d never imagined expoloring, introducing him to the likes of equally esoteric wordsmith philosophers William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) in the process.
Thus begins co-writer and director John Krokidas’s Kill Your Darlings, a movie taking a bird’s eye look at Ginsberg’s early relationships, the beginning of what would become known as the “Beat Generation” and the chaotic conflicts that would go on to influence the writer’s life and literary works. It focuses most intensely on the author’s interactions with Carr, the man he would dedicate his signature achievement Howl to, and how the young man’s bizarre entanglement with Kammerer would lead to unspeakable tragedy.
Fine. Good. Sounds interesting. Problem is, it isn’t, at least not for the film’s entire running time, Krokidas and fellow writer Austin Bunn having a damnable time maintaining focus. While I get they’re trying to emulate the feel, the vitality, the unhinged anything-goes sensibility of the writer at the center of their drama, latching on and caring about what is going on as far as Ginsberg, Carr and all the rest are concerned proves to be impossible. The movie is all over the map and is rarely as clear as it needs to be, the emotional impact of the tragedy to come significantly lessened in the process.
Not that the actors don’t give it their best shot. Former boy wizard Radcliffe is surprisingly strong, his Ginsberg a singular animal learning to make his way in the world by navigating pathways and ideologies he’s initially hesitant to embrace. His sexual awakening is handled with dynamic flair, the level of carnal restraint creating an air of heated sensuality that’s always on the verge of boiling over. The actor dives into his performance, and while I wouldn’t put it on the same lofty plateau as James Franco’s work in Howl, the fact he even comes close to achieving the same level of introspective eloquence is a gigantic statement in and of itself.
The rest of the cast is equally solid, although it shouldn’t be surprising that they don’t have near as much to work with as Radcliffe does. Still, Dehaan shows once again why he’s considered one of the more gifted up and coming actors of his generation, while Hall does more with less than just about anyone, the pair sharing a couple of moments that held me in spellbound rapture. Foster and Huston do what they can but in the movie treats them like little more than window dressing, and while their involvement in the affair is important, their impact on the overall story itself is sadly negligible.
If only I felt like Krokidas and Bunn had better control of their narrative. They throw pieces in willy-nilly, not giving them any sort of context that would help the movie resonate on a deeper, more emotionally affecting level. There is an odd disconnect between the events being depicted and the impact they have on Ginsberg as a writer, his climactic epiphany not having an ounce of weight or meaning. Kill Your Darlings is weirdly aloof at the most inopportune of moments, the whole thing eventually a muted, constipated frustration that for whatever reason refuses to come alive making watching the film in its entirety a waste of 104 minutes.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)