The deeds and misdeeds of the “Beat Generation” writers have long since passed into literary myth. The unexpected pleasure of John Krokidas’ debut feature is its witty and insightful depiction of the literary lions in their formative years, when they were still searching for a style and an identity.
Daniel Radcliffe is a strange choice to play Allen Ginsberg.
Beyond the Hogwarts-style specs which he wears, Ginsberg has nothing in common with Harry Potter. Radcliffe portrays the gay, Jewish poet with a thoroughly engaging mix of subtlety and brio, even if he seems far too sprightly for the role.
The early scenes play like a 1940s “Beat” version of Brideshead Revisited, with Ginsberg as the Charles Ryder figure drawn to the sybaritic excesses of the blond-haired young prodigy Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) when they first meet at Columbia University.
In one of the film’s funniest scenes, he is even ready to seduce a young female librarian so his friends can search for obscene manuscripts when she is otherwise engaged. They’re an obnoxious bunch, showing off and egging each other on.
We are always aware, though, that the arrogance is a veneer. “We’re not anything yet,” Carr laments. This is a portrait of the artists as young men with a murder story tagged on a little clumsily, almost as an afterthought. The energy of the performances and Krokidas’ flashy directorial style paper over the cracks in the plotting.