Chicago International Film Festival 2011
Love Always, Carolyn Directed by: Malin Korkeasalo and Maria Ramstrom Cast: Carolyn Cassady, John Allen Cassady, Cathy Cassady Sylvia Running Time: 1 hr 10 mins Rating: NR Release Date: TBD
PLOT: This film follows the exploits of Carolyn Cassady, husband of Neal Cassady and lover of Jack Kerouac.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of the Beat movement will undoubtedly be intrigued, but this film is also a beautiful example of what it means to be a woman, a mother, and a wife. Fans of female-driven films should take note of Carolyn Cassady's story.
Love Always, Carolyn has the same sensibility as Grey Gardens in the sense that I was never sure if I wanted to laugh or if I wanted to cry. Then again, a well-made movie is capable of doing both and never makes you pick between the two. Unfortunately, the movie is too aimless to deliver strongly on either emotional front, but throughout its 70 minute running time, I felt as if I was always on the verge of both.
The biggest issue with the film, although it's a well-made and thoughtful piece, is that it seems ambivalent about the kind of woman Carolyn Cassady was and what she became. In many ways, living alongside Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac would make for an extraordinary life. However, the film chooses to focus on Carolyn as a woman of her times. True, she has since become outspoken and somewhat ornery, but in her time, she was very much representative of the options many women faced.
Love Always, Carolyn is most compelling when it details the oppression Carolyn faced in her life. From her time as a young girl, silenced by the traditional values of her family, to the tumultuous times as a wife and mother. However, Carolyn never truly allows herself to be victimized. Instead, she accepts them as they are. It makes for an interesting examination of the personal lives of her family and the men she loved but ultimately, it meanders through her relationships with Cassady and Kerouac as well as her family life.
However, the film itself seems to discount Carolyn Cassady as an empowered woman. Her strength is constantly undercut by the interviewers as they try to guide her back to stories of the Beat poets. Carolyn herself says that she hopes to make a name for herself on her own merits rather than though her association with the writers in her life. However, Korkeasalo and Ramstrom never give her the opportunity to do that. It's a shame too, considering Carolyn is energetic, acerbic, and easily one of the most engaging documentary subjects I've seen in some time.
In the end, Carolyn Cassady is neither victim nor hero. Instead, the documentary treats her as an object, one whose purpose isn't entirely clear. The woman is certainly an interesting one, but the presentation of her in remains an issue. Besides the fact that the documentary has no discernible purpose, the film does little to show any respect for its subject. Carolyn Cassady constantly asserts that she is her own woman, outside of her relationships to Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac, but the film never has enough faith in her to let her tell her own story, something that she does beautifully when given the opportunity. Instead, it keeps returning to her stories about the Beat poets that she seems to have grown tired of. Ultimately, Carolyn Cassady is an interesting character who deserves a documentary and to be known based on her own merits. Unfortunately, Love Always, Carolyn is not the film to do it. Fortunately for fans of Carolyn Cassady, her book Off the Road seems to capture that side of the woman, but by the end of the film's 70 minute running time, I felt like my time would have been better spent reading about Carolyn Cassady in her own words rather than through the lens of Malin Korkeasalo and Maria Ramstrom.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10