J.D. Salinger gets the biopic treatment with “Rebel in the Rye”

Perhaps no author fascinates the world like J.D. Salinger does. Whether it’s if there will ever be a movie version of The Catcher in the Rye or actual details of the man’s life, he captivates. A recent documentary called Salinger shed some light on him, but now a biopic is hitting theaters in Rebel in the Rye. It comes out this week and will probably struggle to stand out in the crowd. It had a fairly muted debut back in January at the Sundance Film Festival and it stands to reason that it’ll be pretty much the same thing here in general release. It’s a shame too, as Salinger deserves more.

The film is a biopic about the aforementioned J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult), a young man and aspiring writer who would go on to write one of the all time great novels in The Catcher in the Rye. When we meet Salinger, he is a young man looking to find a way to get published. Known to often get kicked out of schools, he finally finds a spot he feels he belongs in under the tutelage of writing professor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey). Soon, he’s seen a short story of his get published, but entry into World War II changes him. When he returns, he struggles to write, though eventually it will leaf to the publication of his landmark novel and the introduction of Holden Caulfield into the public consciousness. Fame brings a whole new set of issues for Salinger, and he’d eventually retreat from the world. Danny Strong writes and directs here, with the supporting cast including Eric Bogosian, Lucy Boynton, Hope Davis, Zoey Deutch, Victor Garber, Brian d’Arcy James, Sarah Paulson, Amy Rutberg, James Urbaniak, and more. Up and coming composer Bear McCreary handles the score, while cinematography is by Kramer Morgenthau.

Having seen the flick last month, I can attest to it being solid enough but ultimately disappointing. Spacey is best in show and his early scenes are a treasure, but once it focuses in on Salinger’s growing unease with fame, it loses something. Hoult is strong, but I just wanted more. There’s nothing here that you wouldn’t already know if you’re interested in the man. As such, it’s basically just a fictionalized account that won’t necessarily intrigue those who aren’t fans, while not offering anything new for die-hards. It’s caught right in no man’s land. Ultimately, that dooms it from being anything particularly special. Strong is a good writer and may very well have a future as a director, though this is a rather workmanlike debut.

As a quick aside, here’s what I would like as Spacey’s ten best performances to date:

10. Rebel in the Rye
9. Moon
8. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
7. Se7en
6. The Negotiator
5. K-PAX
4. The Usual Suspects
3. Pay It Forward
2. L.A. Confidential
1. American Beauty

Honorable Mention: Baby Driver, Beyond the Sea, Casino Jack, Glengarry Glen Ross, Superman Returns, and The United States of Leland

Starting this Friday, Salinger fans can finally see a biopic about the man with the release of Rebel in the Rye. Though hardly an awards worthy film, it’s a watchable biopic about someone people admittedly are always curious about. The movie could have been a better one, but honestly, it could have been a lot worse too. Spacey turns out to be its secret weapon. Fans of his will get as much out of this as anyone else. It didn’t blow me away, but that’s just one humble critic. Give it a shot if you’re inclined to do so and see what you think…

Be sure to check out Rebel in the Rye, beginning its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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