Saturday, March 07, 2015

Kill Your Darlings (2013)

6.5/10 – Kill Your Darlings is a coming of age story about a young, somewhat awkward kid from New Jersey in his first year at Columbia University and the circle of friends he becomes involved with. They get into mischief, they have intense discussions, they’re exploring boundaries, exploring their sexuality, exploring their own self-identity, not unlike many young people going off to college for the first time. It just happens that the Jersey kid is Allen Ginsberg, and his friends include Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Interestingly, though, they’re not really the center of the story. That would be Lucien Carr, who dazzles the young Ginsberg with his literary knowledge, vibrant energy and desire to live life big. But Lucien is involved in an unhealthy relationship with an older man who’s part mentor, part lover, and part stalker. Things deteriorate until there is a murder that winds up involving everyone in this happy-crazy little circle. Based on real events, Kill Your Darlings does a good job of showing Ginsberg’s transformation from a shy, somewhat innocent kid into the young, more experienced and interesting man who would go on to become one of the most important poets of the 20th century. Though there’s plenty of potential for joking about Harry Potter playing Allen Ginsberg (Columbia=Hogwarts, Burroughs=Weasley, etc.), I thought Daniel Radcliffe was actually very good. He certainly nails the look of young Ginsberg, and he brings an Everyman quality to the role which makes it easy to like and relate to the poet, which I think is important. Dane DeHaan is mesmerizing as Lucien Carr, looking like a young David Bowie and definitely conveying the kind of charismatic intensity that would attract young impressionable poets to him. Ben Foster has a fun turn as Burroughs. There are some amusing scenes with the three of them, especially one at a jazz club when Ginsberg is super-wired on one of the multitudinous drug offerings that Burroughs carries around in his suitcase. The film never reaches any great heights, especially considering the subject matter. It’s a rather traditional Hollywood movie about the Beats, and it has the feel at times of a young adult novel, but that didn’t seem to bother me very much for some reason. I thought it was an interesting story and that it was told well and with care. It’s fun seeing Ginsberg & Co. in their youth, but it also brought a wry smile to my face as I thought about the excitement of that time in my own life, when the world seemed so fascinating and it was possible to start a literary revolution. Those dopey college kids actually managed to do it.

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