A venerable educational institution must deal with the mysterious disappearance of rare books and manuscripts and their replacement with erotic material that has hitherto been kept under lock and key. Clandestine encounters between the library shelves? And a summons to the Dean’s office for breaches of discipline? And Daniel Radcliffe plays the starring role?
Kill Your Darlings is not, one hastens to explain, Harry Potter all over again However, it does star Daniel Radcliffe as the poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) during his anarchic freshman year at New York’s Columbia University.
The year in question is 1943-1944, America is at war and the jazz clubs are hopping. It’s the era of Ella, Sarah and Billie, of Benzedrine, of uppers and downers. Allen’s father is the poet Louis who is delighted to see his son accepted in to such a prestigious institution as Columbia. Meanwhile, Allen's mother Naomi (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is taken away to a psychiatric hospital for her own safety.
Somehow, the tragedy at home acts as a goad to young Ginsberg. The domestic disturbance makes him sharp, prickly, individualistic and ambitious. Some of this Daniel Radcliffe communicates well, and not without pathos.
But one can’t help remarking that the actor has a kind of default expression – his features suggest the forlorn look of the boy who failed to secure the last Rolo. Ginsberg in real life looked confident and self-possessed, you don’t get to be a highly-celebrated poet in America by looking like a shrinking violet.
Anyway, the aspirant poet teams up with two young writers who would in time, like Ginsberg, become leading lights of the Beat generation. Writer William Burroughs, is played by Ben Foster, who has that world-weary, nicotine-sanded voice down pat. Meanwhile, Ginsberg's other new pal is the mercurial ex-footballer Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) is neglectful of his long-suffering live-in-lover Edie Parker (Elizabeth Olsen) and prefers to go out with the lads.
Ginsberg falls in love with the fragile young Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) - think Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. Lucien is being stalked by an older, besotted ex-lover David Kammerer (Michael C Hall.) Their complicated affair ends in tragedy, and the question of murder or manslaughter.
While first time director John Krokidas must be commended for a daring debut feature based on true events, the film lacks sufficient heart. Then again, maybe this is what these young Beat guys were like in real life. Don't always expect to feel empathy.