Release Date: July 1969
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson
Screenwriters: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Terry Southern
Pitch: Inhale. Brush off long hair putdowns. Rev the Harley. Look at the pretty scenery. Inhale.
What works: This movie presents a snapshot of hippie culture in the late ’60s. It highlights drug culture, freedom as a mindset, communal living and anti-hippie sentiment. I added the second star on account of the awesome movie soundtrack (“Born to be Wild”; “The Weight”) and an amusing tagalong parade scene.
Where it fumbles: Sorry, I didn’t get it. It’s a much lauded “iconic” film that I’m supposed to find pretty trippy. My reaction when the end credits rolled: “That’s it?!”, combined with “Thank God that’s over.” Character development? Forget it! Plot? Forget it! It feels like Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern, who each received “writing” credits, had a general idea—road trip to New Orleans, meet hippies, meet hippie haters—and winged it. Smoking pot and popping some potent pills, I suppose they felt they had something groovy and rad. Watching it while drinking a glass of wine, I didn’t feel the vibe. The scene in which Jack Nicholson’s lawyer character pretends he doesn’t know what to do with a joint is unintentionally comical. Even Jack Nicholson at his Oscar-caliber best can’t be convincing in that situation!
Was there an actual screenplay or just an outline prior to filming? The dialogue seems like it was improvised and rehearsed once or twice before each scene was filmed. In the hands of Mike Leigh, it might have meant something. Capturing a mood or a time is one thing, but a film still has to tell a story. As it is, it’s one Why Bother shoulder shrug.