February 1, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 20°F


Review: Clumsy storyline kills period film

"Kill Your Darlings"

Directed by John Krokidas

Covertly changing the channel, Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) dances around his suburban New Jersey home armed with a broomstick, completing his chores to the jazzy wailing of a commandeered radio. His awkward and endearing missteps indicate his innocuous nature, soon to be corrupted by the jolts and thrills of the mid-1940s bohemian underground scene.

William Faulkner’s famous quote is the basis for the film “Kill Your Darlings.” To “kill your darlings” means to give up the more self-indulgent parts of a certain work to improve it as a whole.

The movie follows the bespectacled and bookish Ginsberg to Columbia University. While there, he befriends fellow would-be literary rebels William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), introduced to him by the dashing Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a dangerously charismatic mischief-maker with a revolutionary agenda. Ginsberg is swept up into their rousing world of jazz, drugs and poetry, preaching the tenets of what he christens the “New Vision,” a cultural denouncement of meter, rhyme and convention. Though he never writes a word, Carr is their visionary. Young Ginsberg eagerly soaks up his assurances and ambitions, soon falling for his captivating colleague. However, Ginsberg’s burgeoning feelings edge Carr away and invite the romantic envy of Carr’s former English professor, the tragically obsessed David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall). These mounting pressures and unrequited emotions drive the group apart — and one member to commit murder.

Initially promising, “Darlings” suffers from inefficient storytelling. Co-writers John Krokidas and Austin Bunn’s boozy narrative stumbles along haphazardly, unaided by Brian A. Kates’ confusing editing work. Shot in just a hasty 24 days on a tight budget, the film suffers from being narratively and logistically overambitious. Krokidas’ inexperience shows in this feature-length directorial debut, where he squanders the talent of an all-star cast. Consequently, the film’s dramatic tension flatlines early on, failing to generate true electricity once the shallow magic of the film’s flashy, hallucinatory tricks wears off.

Despite Krokidas’ lack of focus, earnest performances from Radcliffe and DeHaan will keep audiences’ attention, bolstered by strong supporting acts from Foster and Hall. Though Radcliffe’s role unearths some “Harry Potter” nostalgia — a boy with a troubled home life, glasses and a preference for cable-knit sweaters receives an acceptance letter to the school of his dreams — his enthusiastic performance manages to reaffirm his undeniable acting ability.

Though “Darlings” disappoints in many ways, Radcliffe and DeHaan shine. Krokidas’ film is a fair first-effort, but he is bound to produce more substantial work in the future. Maybe he should follow Faulkner’s advice and “kill his darlings.” Here, his overly sentimental desire to tell the entire story has, ultimately, prevented Krokidas from telling a good one.