Kill Your Darlings

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

John Krokidas

Starring

Dane DeHaan Daniel Radcliffe Michael C Hall

Anticipation.

Positive festival buzz, plus potentially a key component in the Big Daniel Radcliffe Post Potter Reinvention.

Enjoyment.

Too slick, too flashy. Underwhelming.

In Retrospect.

Too light for the hardcore Beat set, to muddled for newbies.

Allen Ginsberg: The college years. This Daniel Radcliffe starring Beat bio is over-styled and earnest.

This is a movie which a young actor’s entirely noble desire to be taken seriously buffets awkwardly against a sense that he’s not quite ready to hang with the big boys yet. Daniel Radcliffe goes through all the motions that Serious Actors go through in order to cast off the shackles of unwanted matinée idol-dom. He hides himself behind fat vintage eyewear, he indulges in all manner of cheeky/nefarious activities, and he’s also seen exorcising his sexual demons by being flipped onto a bed and dutifully deflowered by another gentleman.

Despite its mild subversion, the ghost of Harry Potter hangs low over Kill Your Darlings, a document of Allen Ginsberg’s path to artistic maturity. Instead of a nebbish orphan gradually coming to terms with his awesome, hereditary magical powers, you have a nebbish poet coming to terms with his sexuality and his capacity as a cultural iconoclast. Cringe at each twist and revelation as our hero pouts and grins like he’s watching pandas mate, over-emoting and exacerbating any mild sense of wonder in order to make the material feel more groundbreaking and important than it is.

Debut director John Krokidas coasts on Instagram-styled shots of distressed interiors and thick shafts of milky light in order to affect a convincing period setting and mood. There’s nothing wrong or bad about how the film looks, though it sorely lacks for visual surprises, particularly as the shabby-chic dress-up box fiasco of On The Road can still be seen glimmering in the rear view mirror.

The whole film lacks for genuine substance, with literary epiphanies or pivotal moments coming across as references or well researched facts rather than moments that have been subtly nestled into a rich, overarching drama. Much of the film consists of whirlwind montages of fun, larks and monkeyshines. Which is never fun to actually watch.

It’s earnest too: a sequence in which our literary rebels tamper with a library display case, switching an exhibit of canonical doorstop classics with seditious smut, is framed as a cultural coup, a cudgel in the face of stuffy conservatism swung by free-thinking liberals doped up to the eyeballs. This doesn’t translate at all in the manner it’s clearly intended, and when viewed from a contemporary vantage point, looks about as revolutionary as furtively unscrewing the lid on a salt shaker.

It’s like the story is lost inside the film, with the desire for visual flash and the constant overemphasis of “meaning” leading to an overall product that’s shallow and muddled. It’s commendable that Krokidas has tried to breath new life into the fusty biopic format, but one feels that he’s also produced a movie that none of its subjects would particularly care for.

Published 5 Dec 2013

Anticipation.

Positive festival buzz, plus potentially a key component in the Big Daniel Radcliffe Post Potter Reinvention.

Enjoyment.

Too slick, too flashy. Underwhelming.

In Retrospect.

Too light for the hardcore Beat set, to muddled for newbies.

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