Synopsis by Mark Deming
While Neal Cassady never gained fame as a writer, he was a pivotal figure among the Beat poets and novelists of the 1950s. A close friend of most of the seminal figures in the Beat movement, Cassady's free-wheeling, larger-than-life personality was a major influence on Jack Kerouac, who used him as the inspiration for the character Dean Moriarity in On the Road, and he was a founding member of Ken Kesey's post-Beat, pre-hippie "Merry Pranksters," driving their now-famous psychedelic bus (whose destination, then as now, was "Furthur"). The Last Time I Committed Suicide is loosely based on several incidents from Cassady's life, as well as an eight-page letter that he wrote to Kerouac about some complicated events in his love life. In the late 1940s, 20-year-old Cassady (Thomas Jane) was living in Denver and working the late shift at a tire factory when he became involved with Joan (Claire Forlani), a sad young woman with a suicidal bent, and befriended Harry (Keanu Reeves), a cheerful but past-his-prime alcoholic. Cassady also found himself the target of the affections of Cherry Mary (Gretchen Mol), a sexy 16-year-old whose mother, Mrs. Greenway (Christine Rose), doesn't much care for him; he also encountered Ben (Adrien Brody), a shy young poet whose interest in Cassady seemed to be more than just literary. Footage of the real Neal Cassady can be found in the documentary on the Beat Movement, The Source.