Judy Davis might have commanded the definitive Joan Vollmer role in Naked Lunch, but in Beat, Courtney Love makes a not-half-bad at reinterpreting the last weeks of her life before being accidentally(?) shot in the head during a William Tell parlor trick by her famed writer husband William S. Burroughs.
Set in broken down Mexico City, the film finds Vollmer receiving a visit from beat-heads Allen Ginsburg (Ron Livingston) and Lucien Carr (Norman Reedus). (Carr, a minor figure in beat history, was a UPI reporter responsible for introducing many of the beats to one another as well as inspiring Jack Kerouac to type On the Road on a roll of teletype paper.) Burroughs (Kiefer Sutherland) is off on one of his bisexual booty calls, leaving his wife to ponder whether she should stay with her philandering husband (being no faithful lap dog herself) or skip town and return with her two kids to New York with Lucien and Allen. (Her very short history should tell you which route she actually chose.)
A loving portrait of the early beat lifestyle, Gary Walkow’s ode to Vollmer is sweet and endearing, despite its tragic finale. The four lead players all imbue their characters with substanial flair, especially Sutherland’s mannered and deadpan witticisms. The direction is capable if short of masterful (and sometimes Walkow’s shots make it all to obvious he’s trying to create a pretty shot, eventually making it painfully clear you’re watching a movie). As well, the story’s point-a-to-point-b plotting gets the job done with hardly a wasted line — and without a second to spare, clocking in at about 78 minutes. Zoom!