My Salinger Year – Review
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(March 4, 2021 – Toronto, ON) If you think My Salinger Year is going to unravel the mystery behind the appearance of the author’s famous novel, The Catcher in the Rye, in the hands or homes of various assassins from Lee Harvey Oswald to John Hinkley Jr., this is not that. If this was a mystery, and it isn’t, it would fit the genre known as a cozy. It’s a gentle film with a gentle cast, really just a handful of actors in an adaptation of the memoir by Joanna Rakoff, played in the film by American actress Margaret Qualley, pictured above.
Adapting fiction novels is one thing, adapting a true story taken from a slice from someone’s life requires a deft interpretation of the facts. Writer-director Philippe Falardeau has woven the complicated threads of one person’s life into a complete tapestry, vibrant in its colour, rich in its design, but very understated. To be clear if this was an action movie, all of the action is reduced to walking and much of that in the confines of a smallish literary agency. You might interpret that as “stuffy” but you’d be wrong. The pace, the perfectly fashioned sets, the honest sound of a typewriter all contribute to the time capsule Falardeau has created.
His first trick was taking 1990s New York and reworking it into a location shoot in Montréal. You would never guess it, seeing what’s on the screen. The second trick was to use the famously reclusive author almost as a prop. Movies have turning points and very often the first one comes around the 20-minute mark. Rakoff, the character (who wants to be a writer and has never read any Salinger) has landed a job working for Sigourney Weaver, playing Margaret, the head of a literary agency whose most famous client is the titular J.D. Salinger, or Jerry as he’s referred to by agency staff. The newly hired Joanna learns that anything and everything to do with their most important and revered client must be performed in ways that seem to be a reflection of the man himself. His presence hovers ghostlike over every function. At the 20-minute mark Joanna’s phone rings and Jerry is on the line. It’s a brilliant moment, a marvellous way to introduce the virtually invisible author. There are several calls and we get to know the voice and at one point just when you think you’re going to see the man, played by actor Tim Post, Falardeau frames the shot so that the mystery is maintained and you never fully see his face.
There is more to Joanna’s life than work and most of it is messy. Young, in love or maybe not, her scenes away from the office help to fill out the character and remind you this is a memoir.
Underlining the draw that was/is Salinger, cut-aways feature people wanting to make contact with the writer for various reasons and with varying degrees of urgency. It is part of Joanna’s job to type precisely formatted replies and then shred the stacks of letters the agency receives seemingly every day. This is the age before email. These punctuation marks in the story serve to remind us of Salinger’s popularity and his devoted fans some 40 years after Catcher was published. Also look for the recurring appearance of the “Boy from Winston-Salem” marvellously played by Théodore Pellerin. My only disappointment was that Colm Feore seemed wasted in his role, his screen time reduced to the equivalent of a few walk-ons, but as they say, there are no small roles and he is playing the part of a real person with all the charm and grace required by the part and to a lesser degree the era. People were nicer then.
You don’t need to have read either The Catcher in the Rye or My Salinger Year to get into this movie. Every character is a gift and the care Falardeau has taken with another person’s life is to be applauded. Selected to open the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival, My Salinger Year is a moment of calm in a world of chaos. Relax. Enjoy.
Click here to watch the trailer and learn more about the cast and crew of My Salinger Year.
My Salinger Year is available to rent or buy as of March 5, 2021 on the Apple TV app/iTunes and other VOD platforms. It also opens March 5 in select theatres in Saskatoon, Regina, Ottawa, Kingston, Peterborough and Montreal. Check local listings. It will open throughout the spring in other cities.
Ralph Lucas is the founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.