My Salinger Year
Margaret Qualley, Sigourney Weaver, Douglas Booth, Seana Kerslake, Bruan F. O’Byrne, Colm Feore
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…well-observed human sentiments and particularities of character anchor the film.
If you want to become an undying legend, just write one of the best American novels of the century and then go into wilful self-exclusion. That’s what J.D. (“Jerry”) Salinger did after writing The Catcher in the Rye. This film by French Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, tells the story of a young woman who becomes yet another tangent to the Salinger mystique.
Joanna (Margaret Qualley) is a straight A student destined for college, but also feeling penned by conventional expectations. She has a vague and familiar yearning to ‘be a writer’ and decides to ditch her nice boyfriend and head to New York to broaden her horizons. There, she falls for a shaggy bohemian guy and then lucks into a job at a literary agency. The agency is run by the strict-but-benign Margaret (Sigourney Weaver), who gently whips Joanna into shape. The agency is small but prestigious in its way, and it has handled some literary greats in past decades. Its prize client now though is Jerry Salinger and Joanna takes over the job of handling the endless requests for contact that he has resolutely told the agency to spurn and shred. Joanna cannot help but be moved by the yearning of the people that write in saying how much his novel means to them. She herself is part of that huge unknown population that feels the gravitational pull of literature, but, equally, she has to grow up and realise that there is a real world beyond teenage dreams and that, in addition, publishing is a business.
Much of the emotional core of the movie revolves around the older-younger female mentoring relationship in which Weaver and Qualley both convince. As in the film The Devil Wears Prada (also about a glamorous but misunderstood industry), this is about the desire to retain ambition and hope and yet balance it with realism and resilience.
The side characters are well played and written, and the period feel is easy on the eye. The source material is from a memoir by Joanna Smith Rakoff (who shares script credit with the director). Qualley (who has done TV work and had a crucial part in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) has a wide-eyed but watchful persona here and she is certainly a name to note. Falardeau is a safe pair of hands. His earlier film Monsieur Lazhar (2011) was an under-seen gem and here he once again allows the well-observed human sentiments and particularities of character to anchor the film.