Daniel Radcliffe is back in a pair of nerdy round specs as Allen Ginsberg in this sincere, heartfelt film about how the gay beat poet found his generation-defining voice at college in 1940s New York. On paper, it looks like Radcliffe is trying too hard – first he got his kit off on stage, now he’s playing the original hipster. But he’s lovely to watch as the pre-cool Ginsberg – an eager, anxious Jewish kid out of his depth at Columbia University.
It’s a love story of sorts. Ginsberg falls hard for fellow student Lucien Carr, a smoulder-ball of danger and charisma (played by Dane DeHaan, channeling the holy trinity of Johnny Depp, River Phoenix and James Dean). Lucien has the temperament of a genius, though not the skills. His genius is for living, but somehow he teases the talent out of a hopelessly devoted Ginsberg, introducing him to marijuana, Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). There’s a murder too, involving Lucien’s stalker (and sometime lover), played with tortured frustration by ‘Dexter’ actor Michael C Hall.
Sometimes you wish director John Krokidas would kill the clichés – clanking typewriters, jump-on-the-library-table carpe diem speeches and everyone dressed for a retro GQ shoot. But this is a sensitive, intelligent snapshot of a writer finding his feet and a myth in the making.