J.D. Salinger is attributed with the quote, "People never notice anything," but J.D. Salinger wasn't your average person.
Known for writing what is considered one of the best coming-of-age novels during the past century, gaining fame only to become a notoriously private recluse, J.D. Salinger was likely on your high school required reading (and if you have literary nerd friends, they probably have a lot of feelings regarding The Catcher in the Rye). But how much do you know about the man behind one of literature's most curious characters?
Written by and also acting as the directorial debut for Danny Strong (Gilmore Girls and Mad Men, among others), Rebel in the Rye tells the coming-of-age story of J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) as he finds his voice in a mid-century New York City and the inspiration within himself for the legendary Holden Caulfield character. We see him go from a sarcastic youth smoking and dancing in jazz clubs, to an ambitious published author, to shaken combat soldier at the height of World War II – the last of which would be the event that would help crystalize his final creation of Caulfield and send him directly into stardom.
Along the way we're introduced to the strongest influences in Salinger's life, including his Columbia professor turned mentor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey) and first love Oona O'Neill (Zoey Deutch), and how his experiences shaped the lines in stories that generations of readers have read and fallen in love with. Traveling around New York, we follow Salinger as he goes from frustrated youth to success story, only to discover that the side effects of fame are not all he had originally dreamed out.
If you're a lover of period pieces, you'll fall for the big band music and the quirky dialogue of the characters (a young Salinger certainly calls a fair few people a "phony"). However, if you believe anything from Sundance Film Festival reviews, this film will fall short. This is no fault of the actors for each does an impeccable job on the screen. Deutch allows us to fall for Oona just as young "Jerry" Salinger does, and Hoult, despite being far more attractive than the actual author, portrays the many moods of the author powerfully.
The issue many instead have is with Strong's efforts to depict the intensity of the creative process, and no one caring about it.
As sexy as it looks to see Hoult as a never-aging Salinger furiously smoking cigarettes and writing about his woes over a typewriter or demanding that The New Yorker not make edits to his story because of his deep emotional attachment to the characters, it's not very sympathetic. Once Salinger does go through the life-changing experiences of war and finds success his quirks might become tiresome. Additionally, because it's a biopic, there's no way to brighten up the dullness that was Salinger's later years in life: he escaped to a farm in New Hampshire with the large sums from Catcher, eventually put up a large wooden fence, and wrote in his office for himself until his passing in 2010. It's far from the glamour one might picture from people living at the height of short story craze, but in all of its disorganized narrative it still remains feeling true to the disorganized truth of reality.
Throughout the film, Burnett reminds young Salinger that no person is truly a writer until they know that they will write regardless if anyone else is reading their work or if they're getting paid. If you don't consider yourself a "true writer" or a huge Salinger fan, the chances of you fawning over this film are likely bleak. You'll probably find yourself bored by the visual depiction of the creative process. However, if your weapon is the pen, it's certainly worth 100 minutes of your time, if only to learn about what it means to be a tortured artist.
Rebel in the Rye will be distributed by IFC Films and released in theatres September 15.
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