My Salinger Year was the first film I chose to watch from Vancouver International Film Festival’s (VIFF) extensive list of entries for 2020.
This is the time of year that I most love to settle in and watch a good movie. At first I was disappointed about not being able to go into one of the film fest screening cinemas as in years past. The excitement of the crowd in a lineup waiting to go inside and…obviously nothing beats watching on a big screen.
However, by the time my HDMI cable was hooked up from my laptop to my TV, stretching out on a comfy sofa in PJ’s and with pizza fresh out of the oven, all was forgiven.
This film is based on real life characters in the year 1995. Written and Directed by Quebec’s Philippe Falardeau, it’s an adaptation of Joanna Rakoff’s 2014 memoir starring Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley. Qualley is the real life daughter of actress Andie MacDowell (for inquiring minds).
Qualley plays Rakoff, an English Major college grad who takes a job working for an aloof chain- smoking literary agent (Weaver) to the celebrated and reclusive writer J.D. Salinger. Salinger wrote the iconic, albeit controversial “Catcher in the Rye” that had a profound, if not unsettling effect on many people. It was one of the required books to read in many high schools, including mine.
Rakoff moved back to the Big Apple from Berkeley, California, leaving boyfriend behind, to try to become a respected author one day. On the advice of an employment coach, she saw how working in literary agent’s office might bring her closer to realizing her dream. Even though Rakoff had feeble typing skills and little prior knowledge of the book publishing industry, she ends up with an administrative assistant to the head one of New York’s prominent agencies boss (played by Weaver) whose character is reminiscent of Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”. Not that this type of persona is foreign to Weaver. Remember “Working Girl?”
Although Rakoff had read all of Judy Blume’s children’s books and was excited when Blume made an appearance in the office, Rakoff had never read “Catcher in the Rye” even though Salinger was one of the agency’s most famous and recluse authors.
Little did Rakoff realize she would be one of the few lucky ones to have brief chats with Jerry (Salinger) over the phone, where he seemed to take a professional interest in her writing aspirations, encouraging her to pursue them. Little does she realize that this brush with fame would impact her life. At the time Salinger was working on another novel in Cornish, New Hampshire.
What he did not do was answer any of his fan mail. Those years were long gone. Part of Rakoff’s job was to answer fan mail on Salinger’s behalf, but only in strict form letter formats given to her, and then shredding his incoming letters. Partly bored with the job, she riskily decides to personally answer some of the more desperate fan mail herself knowing she could lose her job over doing so. It gets a little complicated.
Overall I really enjoyed this film. It’s not perfect but it was easy watching and I have a preference for real life stories, not necessarily on famous people themselves. I gave it four out of five stars. ****
Check out more films/documentaries/talks: