By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
In 1951, author J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye was published to instant critical acclaim and became a massive best seller, launching the relatively unknown author into legendary status. The author would continue writing and would become more withdrawn from the public eye, but would never achieve the same notoriety that he earned from his first novel. Salinger’s life leading up to his career as a writer and the new life that would follow offers some rich and compelling material for a film which serves as a first cinematic biopic of the enigmatic artist. Though Rebel in the Rye does offer a fascinating glimpse at Salinger and his life, it is a rather conventional and sanitized telling of the story. Those familiar with Salinger, and his attitudes toward banality, will agree that such a biopic would certainly irritate the rebellious writer.
Nicholas Hoult stars as Jerome David Salinger, an aspiring writer who begins the film as a lost and aimless soul until his mother (Hope Davis) encourages him to fully commit to his passion. After getting expelled from other institutions of higher learning, Jerry decides to re-enroll in college at Columbia University where he studies creative writing under Whit Burnett, a man who soon becomes a close mentor to him. After receiving constructive criticism and genuine encourage from his teacher, Salinger begins to seek out publishing of his stories. Before the writer could become a big star, he would have to serve in the army and fight as an infantryman in World War II. Having managed to survive and return to the U.S., Salinger would have to cope with his psychological war trauma before he could return to his writing. His dark experiences in the war would inspire him even further, but it would also affect his ability to connect with people on a social level.
Written and directed by Danny Strong, Rebel in the Rye is a fine enough film for Salinger’s story leading up to The Catcher in the Rye, but seems to lose some its bite in his post-Catcher years. I enjoyed the glimpse into some of what inspired the writer of one of my favorite novels, but also feel that story seems incomplete and pulls too many punches. Though Salinger would probably balk at the idea of movie telling his story, he would probably be even more angered that it was told in a rather common manner. Danny Strong’s writing and direction comes across very much ‘by the book’ and doesn’t offer audiences anything too innovative or interesting in terms of storytelling and filmmaking. The great performances of the cast did keep me thoroughly engaged and is certainly the high point of the film.
Kevin Spacey always seems to be a reliable choice when it comes to acting and he does not disappoint with a very witty and passionate performance as Salinger’s teacher and mentor Whit Burnett. Sarah Paulson offers a strong portrayal of Salinger’s, shrewd agent Dorothy Olding, who does her best to protect his interests and guarantee his success. Hope Davis delivers a heartwarming performance as Salinger’s loving mother, while Victor Garber offers a stern and pragmatic turn as his father. The movie also features work by Zoey Deutch, Lucy Boynton, Brian d’Arcy James, and Eric Bogosian.
It is with some reluctance that I recommend this movie to my readers. While I didn’t completely hate, I feel that it could have been so much better. Die-hard fans of J.D. Salinger will probably be somewhat disappointed, while moderate fans or those completely unfamiliar with the author and his works will probably have more interest in the story. My suggestion is to wait until this film is available for viewing at home. It is a passable biopic for J.D. Salinger, but is nothing truly extraordinary. As someone who has admired The Catcher in the Rye since I first read it in high school, I feel that Salinger deserves better.