4/10
Strictly by-the-numbers biopic lacks sparkle
4 October 2017
"Rebel in the Rye" (2017 release; 106 min.) brings the story of the early years of "Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger ("Jerome David, my friends call me Jerry"). As the movie opens, we see Salinger struggling in a care center. We then go "6 Years Earlier - 1939", and we get to know the young man as a college drop-out who likes to impress women--but fails. When he introduces himself as a writer to a young lade, she asks him "What have you published?", and he is speechless (he hasn't published anything--but now he forms a plan: return to college (now at Columbia) and take a Creative Writing class. By chance he ends up in Professor Burnett's class. At this point we're 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the directing debut of former actor and current writer-producer (for the "Empire" TV series, among others) Danny Strong. With the credentials he has, and the tumultuous early years in Salinger's life, one (at least, I) would expect a rousing and drama-filled movie. Alas, one could be very wrong. This movie feels as if it's strictly by-the-numbers. Salinger's incredible WWII years (the man was at D Day, no less) are glossed over in a few minutes and fail to leave any gravitas. Salinger's early struggles as a writer also miss the mark. Likewise with his ups and downs in romance. British actor Nicholas "X-Men" Hoult leaves me completely unmoved as Salinger. There are a couple of plus points that I want to mention: Kevin Spacey is having a ball as the Columbia professor (and mentor) of Salinger. Zoe Deutsch is delightful in the small role as one of Salinger's early love interests. And there is a delightful original score, composed by Bear McCreary. Finally, the movie's title is an all too obvious (and awkward) attempt to synthesize "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Catcher in the Rye" into one. Truth be told, Salinger may have been many things, but a rebel? Not hardly. If you really want to learn more about Salinger, I'd readily recommend the "Salinger" documentary of a few years ago. It is miles ahead of "Rebel in the Rye".

"Rebel in the Rye" opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (5 people, including myself), although the gorgeous and warm Fall evening may have had something to do with that. I can't see this playing very long in the theater, so if you are curious about this movie, you're likely to check it out on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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