|Index||4 reviews in total|
Greetings again from the darkness. "Holden Caulfield is dead." So
states Jerry's letter to his mentor. You likely know Jerry better as
J.D. Salinger, and he wrote that while hospitalized with Post Traumatic
Stress Syndrome after WWII. Of course, we know this proclamation is
premature, as Holden Caulfield is the main character from Mr.
Salinger's famous (and only) novel, "The Catcher in the Rye"
school literature staple for decades.
Imagine your dream is to become a great writer, but your own father continually reminds you that "meat and cheese distribution has been good for this family." Your restlessness often works against you, and though you are hesitant to admit it, a mentor for writing and life direction is desperately needed if you are to avoid the family business. Enter Columbia professor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey).
This is Danny Strong's first feature film as a director, though you would surely recognize his face from his frequent acting appearances often as a weasly character. He is also the creator of TV's "Empire" and wrote the screenplays for THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY (Parts I and II) and LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER. Strong does an admirable job in showing the commitment required to hone one's writing skills and proving "the difference in wanting to be a writer and actually being one."
Jerome David Salinger is played well by Nicholas Hoult. His scenes with Spacey's professor are the film's best, and Hoult also shoulders the responsibility of Salinger's writing frustrations, personal life challenges, military service, and finally, his decision to become the most famous and long-lasting recluse (by comparison, Howard Hughes was an amateur).
We learn that Burnett was instrumental in getting Salinger's first short story published, which finally gave Jerry the answer needed for a writer's most dreaded question, "Have you been published?" Quite a bit of time is devoted to his odd romantic relationship with Oona O'Neill (Eugene's daughter and the future, long-time wife to Charlie Chaplin). Zoey Deutch (daughter of Lea Thompson) plays Oona as an enigmatic lover attracted to Salinger's genius, but incapable of being patient for his career that might happen (and might not). She opts for the sure bet.
Salinger's military service included Utah Beach on D-Day, and nearly as remarkably, his toting the tattered manuscript 'Catcher' pages throughout his tour. He returned home in 1946, and in 1951 "The Catcher in the Rye" was published. It's been referred to as the Great American novel and a rite of passage, while also being banned and derided for its whiny Holden.
Director Strong emphasizes Salinger's turn to Zen Buddhism and his sessions with Swami Nikhilanda, as well as his evolving distrust of stalking fans and two-faced media. Support work is provided by Sarah Paulson as Salinger's salty agent, Lucy Boynton as his wife, Victor Garber as his father, and Hope Davis as his supportive mother. Just as in real life, we get nothing of Salinger's later years of solitude and isolation in New Hampshire, where he died at age 91.
The book has sold more than 65 million copies, and continues to sell well today. In a shift from the recent documentary SALINGER by Shane Salerno, and the book "J.D. Salinger: A Life Raised High" by Kenneth Slawenski, this dramatization doesn't dig too deep, but it does allow a new generation to personify the legend. Perhaps it even paints a picture of a better/nicer man than what his real life actions showed. Regardless, the older Salinger certainly seemed to embrace the cause of "write and get nothing in return".
I was excited and optimistic to see this, to see if these relatively
unknown (to me) filmmakers would approximate anything close to a
realistic portrayal of the man who bore the fictional legend. Sadly, it
was a big disappointment. Admittedly I know as little about Salinger as
most anyone does, but from what little I have read and learned about
the person and his life, the whole film just seemed ill cast and played
like a very contrived, superficial depiction of the man and his work. I
would question how much research the film makers actually did, or
perhaps just their sensibilities at understanding an aloof, isolated,
lost soul, who is depicted a bit too pretty, perfect and dapper even in
the pinnacle of his youth...not the Salinger I think anyone who really
related to or understood someone deeply tortured as he would
characterize him. It kind of felt like Matt Damon/pretty boy of the
week doing his best Toby MacQuire (he would have actually been a better
casting choice, the pre-Spiderman less Hollywood Toby we knew from The
Icestorm or Pleasantville Days, that is...or perhaps even a Zach Braff
circa Garden State type lead, if one must cast an up-and-coming star
with socially aloof predilections). But Nicholas Hoult, whoever you are
(I don't really follow current celebrity trends)...you are no young
Then there's Kevin Spacey, who, looking plump and unpolished, is still one of my least favorite actors (House of whatever, shut up, yes I know)...he's the same in every movie to me. For the first few scenes in the classroom, I actually found myself questioning if it was really Spacey indeed, for the first time in my life finding him in a persona where I didn't immediately recognize, "Oh, I'm watching Kevin Spacey being Kevin Spacey, trying to act." I'm almost certain those classroom scenes were looped (ADR) with his or another actor's voice, because mid-way through the movie Kevin's distinct lispy dialog crept back in, and suddenly I was just watching Kevin Spacey be himself again. I'm not sure who the actor was who dubbed over his voices during the first act, but I did enjoy that side of Spacey, a side where for once I forget who he was. An uneven performance? To say the least.
Perhaps most annoyingly, Basil Exposition kept popping up...the writers/filmmakers over-use of catchwords like "phonies" and "giving' her the time" ripped from the pages of Catcher were cute the first time, not really the second time, and by the fourth or fifth repetition I wondered if they really understood anything beyond a cursory textbook, tabloid interpretation of Salinger and his life at all.
I found myself waiting for the movie to end. Like many, this is one of my favorite books of all time, and this film attempt flopped short of any hopeful expectation.
Perhaps this first deeply flawed attempt will serve as an impetus for better writers/filmmakers/historians/researchers to come along, and finally do justice to the man and the masterpiece that have captivated and touched lost souls across this lonely planet for so long.
I'll still be waiting in the rye.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's difficult for a movie to capture and display the magic of writing, and this movie proves it. The actor playing Salinger is given a pompous screenplay to work with. Salinger comes off as dogmatic and humorless, and maybe he was, to some people, but I think this would've worked better if we heard some of those magic descriptions spoken. Every one of Salinger's Nine Stories is a gem. I know there's intellectual property laws, but I saw a documentary on Charles Bukowski and we see his lines printed out on the movie screen as Bukowski speaks them. It's Salinger's art that fascinates and touches. We should see it, up there.
Some of Nicholas Hoult 's best work. He really gets into character,
becoming someone I've never seen him be before. I've seen him take the
lead in Warm Bodies, and Kill Your Friends both excellent movies (Also
Jack the Giant Slayer which is OK) but this felt slightly more unique.
Helping in this transformation, is Kevin Spacey who does a great job of
electrifying the screen playing a man truly passionate about what he
does, and a mentor to J.D. Salinger. Also like Hope Davis as Salinger's
mom and wanted to point that out (and the fact that it feels like the
same role she did in Captain America: Civil War)
What I love most about this movie is how it made me interested in Catcher in the Rye. I am familiar with the book and how notorious it is among literature, but I never read it myself. Not much of a book worm. The movies portrait of the man is truly rebellious. Rebel in the Rye gives the impression that his fame comes from the idea that he was bold enough to do it first like the Ramones or Prince (More of a music geek) and in his boldness touched a generation that had not really been spoken to before. A generation that would put him on a pedestal that made the war vet uncomfortable. His choice not to publish any more I was slightly aware of, but the movie does make me very intrigued about what else may be accurate (or inaccurate) .
Nicholas Hoult has done a great job driving this spectacular vehicle.
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