|Index||8 reviews in total|
Greetings again from the darkness. "Holden Caulfield is dead." So
states Jerry's letter to his mentor. You likely know Jerry better as
J.D. Salinger, and he wrote that while hospitalized with Post Traumatic
Stress Syndrome after WWII. Of course, we know this proclamation is
premature, as Holden Caulfield is the main character from Mr.
Salinger's famous (and only) novel, "The Catcher in the Rye"
school literature staple for decades.
Imagine your dream is to become a great writer, but your own father continually reminds you that "meat and cheese distribution has been good for this family." Your restlessness often works against you, and though you are hesitant to admit it, a mentor for writing and life direction is desperately needed if you are to avoid the family business. Enter Columbia professor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey).
This is Danny Strong's first feature film as a director, though you would surely recognize his face from his frequent acting appearances often as a weasly character. He is also the creator of TV's "Empire" and wrote the screenplays for THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY (Parts I and II) and LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER. Strong does an admirable job in showing the commitment required to hone one's writing skills and proving "the difference in wanting to be a writer and actually being one."
Jerome David Salinger is played well by Nicholas Hoult. His scenes with Spacey's professor are the film's best, and Hoult also shoulders the responsibility of Salinger's writing frustrations, personal life challenges, military service, and finally, his decision to become the most famous and long-lasting recluse (by comparison, Howard Hughes was an amateur).
We learn that Burnett was instrumental in getting Salinger's first short story published, which finally gave Jerry the answer needed for a writer's most dreaded question, "Have you been published?" Quite a bit of time is devoted to his odd romantic relationship with Oona O'Neill (Eugene's daughter and the future, long-time wife to Charlie Chaplin). Zoey Deutch (daughter of Lea Thompson) plays Oona as an enigmatic lover attracted to Salinger's genius, but incapable of being patient for his career that might happen (and might not). She opts for the sure bet.
Salinger's military service included Utah Beach on D-Day, and nearly as remarkably, his toting the tattered manuscript 'Catcher' pages throughout his tour. He returned home in 1946, and in 1951 "The Catcher in the Rye" was published. It's been referred to as the Great American novel and a rite of passage, while also being banned and derided for its whiny Holden.
Director Strong emphasizes Salinger's turn to Zen Buddhism and his sessions with Swami Nikhilanda, as well as his evolving distrust of stalking fans and two-faced media. Support work is provided by Sarah Paulson as Salinger's salty agent, Lucy Boynton as his wife, Victor Garber as his father, and Hope Davis as his supportive mother. Just as in real life, we get nothing of Salinger's later years of solitude and isolation in New Hampshire, where he died at age 91.
The book has sold more than 65 million copies, and continues to sell well today. In a shift from the recent documentary SALINGER by Shane Salerno, and the book "J.D. Salinger: A Life Raised High" by Kenneth Slawenski, this dramatization doesn't dig too deep, but it does allow a new generation to personify the legend. Perhaps it even paints a picture of a better/nicer man than what his real life actions showed. Regardless, the older Salinger certainly seemed to embrace the cause of "write and get nothing in return".
The glamored-up remix of the life of J.D. Salinger, famously reclusive American author who gave the world Catcher in the Rye" and, er, other writings. Salinger is played by Nicholas Hoult, one of my favorite young-ish actors who can't quite reach stardom. He's a fine actor, and has lots of screen charm but hasn't found his real breakthrough yet. At least in my opinion. Usually he's used as window dressing in trivial roles, even in serious movies. If you haven't seen Hoult's star making turn in BBC's Skins" first season this was ten years ago, mind you , you probably won't even recognize or care about him. But yes, he's appeared in a string of blockbusters too, such as the three last X-Men" (as Hank / Beast) and Jack the Giant Slayer", or Mad Max: Fury Road". He is often heavily disguised tho. You may also remember him from About a Boy" (2002) but back then he was only just a boy. Rebel's" main strength is not its historical accuracy, nor well- balanced story about the great man's life, nor going deep as its hero aspired to, but a fact that the writer-director Danny Strong bets on one strength and goes happily all in on it. The strength is this being a true actors' movie, and they truly deliver. The performances are wonderful and everything else is there to support them. I would argue they have reached drama series quality storytelling, only in shorter form, in 106 minutes. Hoult appears appropriately soulful but mentally fragile, and Kevin Spacey as the only other major character (his mentor / friend) is just as solid as you'd expect from screen veteran of his standing. Every scene Spacey's in is like a masterclass of great movie acting. If this was a project of much higher calibre instead of premiering in Sundance this January and then disappearing quickly we would talk about serious Oscar chances. You know how deliciously the man can be. Critics are true that the movie is ultimately pretty shallow and petty, just what Salinger himself would have tried to avoid, but it's pretty and well-acted, and makes some points about being creative and/or famous that every modern person would still benefit from considering. Such as doing something doesn't mean you're all that creative or deserve much praise. Or: true creativity emerges after working through your fears and vanity. Or also: being famous is not for everybody. In 2010's, there's been a new trend to create fictional movies about real people and/or situations. Most are mainstream (i.e, shallow), as is Rebel in the Rye", but this doesn't reduce its power to entertain in a cheesy way. The result is likable indeed. Writing is a lonely job and "Rebel" has the power to remind us the glamorous side of it too, if only for a second.
"Rebel in the Rye" (2017 release; 106 min.) brings the story of the
early years of "Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger ("Jerome
David, my friends call me Jerry"). As the movie opens, we see Salinger
struggling in a care center. We then go "6 Years Earlier - 1939", and
we get to know the young man as a college drop-out who likes to impress
women--but fails. When he introduces himself as a writer to a young
lade, she asks him "What have you published?", and he is speechless (he
hasn't published anything--but now he forms a plan: return to college
(now at Columbia) and take a Creative Writing class. By chance he ends
up in Professor Burnett's class. At this point we're 10 min. into the
movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing
experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the directing debut of former actor and current writer-producer (for the "Empire" TV series, among others) Danny Strong. With the credentials he has, and the tumultuous early years in Salinger's life, one (at least, I) would expect a rousing and drama-filled movie. Alas, one could be very wrong. This movie feels as if it's strictly by-the-numbers. Salinger's incredible WWII years (the man was at D Day, no less) are glossed over in a few minutes and fail to leave any gravitas. Salinger's early struggles as a writer also miss the mark. Likewise with his ups and downs in romance. British actor Nicholas "X-Men" Hoult leaves me completely unmoved as Salinger. There are a couple of plus points that I want to mention: Kevin Spacey is having a ball as the Columbia professor (and mentor) of Salinger. Zoe Deutsch is delightful in the small role as one of Salinger's early love interests. And there is a delightful original score, composed by Bear McCreary. Finally, the movie's title is an all too obvious (and awkward) attempt to synthesize "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Catcher in the Rye" into one. Truth be told, Salinger may have been many things, but a rebel? Not hardly. If you really want to learn more about Salinger, I'd readily recommend the "Salinger" documentary of a few years ago. It is miles ahead of "Rebel in the Rye".
"Rebel in the Rye" opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (5 people, including myself), although the gorgeous and warm Fall evening may have had something to do with that. I can't see this playing very long in the theater, so if you are curious about this movie, you're likely to check it out on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Fiction has become Jerry's most successful pickup line. The culturally
accepted version of lying that is: Short stories with arrogant and
witty protagonists. Boys with blistering thoughts and sharp words, his
characters observe only to formulate their next jab. This aggressive
form of storytelling wins him affection from women, and disapproval
Jerry writes himself into his stories, and the characters suffer an identity crisis as a result. His voice swallows up the narrative and the plot suffocates in an ooze of style. Of course, he is blissfully unaware of this clash until Whit lectures him into the floorboards. An editor of Story magazine, Whit still teaches at Columbia to support his fruitless career in writing.
Whit is the first jaded wise man that Jerry encounters on his journey to self-actualization. The veteran abandons his podium often, knowing that Jerry requires a confrontational teaching approach. Sniffing out Jerry's talent, Whit chastised the young artist with noble purpose. A will stronger than titanium, Jerry's character needs to be re- purposed into an insatiable drive.
Greatness comes at a grave cost. Even watering greatness involves countless occupational hazards. The fallout of success contains a special strand of toxicity. Jerry does not become drunk on his notoriety, but rather uses it as an excuse to alienate everything that does not pertain to the magic carpet that delivered him to the clouds.
Jerry's second teacher reinforces this pursuit of isolation in the name of exterminating distractions. The stench from his daydreams sends him to the floor where he becomes enchanted by his breaths. Meditation becomes weaponized within his domestic context, and his productivity only wounds his family.
Whit told Jerry very early on that writing is never about publication, it is about producing without ceasing with no guarantees of recognition. This cozy proverb morphs into an ugly manifesto. A global conflict gives Jerry a muse, but the magnum opus has nothing to do with death. But then again, his masterpiece might have everything to do with death.
Some of Nicholas Hoult 's best work. He really gets into character,
becoming someone I've never seen him be before. I've seen him take the
lead in Warm Bodies, and Kill Your Friends both excellent movies (Also
Jack the Giant Slayer which is OK) but this felt slightly more unique.
Helping in this transformation, is Kevin Spacey who does a great job of
electrifying the screen playing a man truly passionate about what he
does, and a mentor to J.D. Salinger. Also like Hope Davis as Salinger's
mom and wanted to point that out (and the fact that it feels like the
same role she did in Captain America: Civil War)
What I love most about this movie is how it made me interested in Catcher in the Rye. I am familiar with the book and how notorious it is among literature, but I never read it myself. Not much of a book worm. The movies portrait of the man is truly rebellious. Rebel in the Rye gives the impression that his fame comes from the idea that he was bold enough to do it first like the Ramones or Prince (More of a music geek) and in his boldness touched a generation that had not really been spoken to before. A generation that would put him on a pedestal that made the war vet uncomfortable. His choice not to publish any more I was slightly aware of, but the movie does make me very intrigued about what else may be accurate (or inaccurate) .
Nicholas Hoult has done a great job driving this spectacular vehicle.
Hoult hasn't the depth or grit to portray Salinger. His bland sweetness may be great for a rom-com but it's a disaster for the complex and shadowy character of Salinger. Spacey, on the other hand, is grippingly engaging, but his part is too small to save the film. When is the major film industry going to get over casting pretty face glamour actors in roles they cannot carry? The industry is full of lesser known, skilled, more appropriate actors who would have done a far superior job. This film could have been great, but as it is, it's flat and leaves you wanting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's difficult for a movie to capture and display the magic of writing, and this movie proves it. The actor playing Salinger is given a pompous screenplay to work with. Salinger comes off as dogmatic and humorless, and maybe he was, to some people, but I think this would've worked better if we heard some of those magic descriptions spoken. Every one of Salinger's Nine Stories is a gem. I know there's intellectual property laws, but I saw a documentary on Charles Bukowski and we see his lines printed out on the movie screen as Bukowski speaks them. It's Salinger's art that fascinates and touches. We should see it, up there.
I was excited and optimistic to see this, to see if these relatively
unknown (to me) filmmakers would approximate anything close to a
realistic portrayal of the man who bore the fictional legend. Sadly, it
was a big disappointment. Admittedly I know as little about Salinger as
most anyone does, but from what little I have read and learned about
the person and his life, the whole film just seemed ill cast and played
like a very contrived, superficial depiction of the man and his work. I
would question how much research the film makers actually did, or
perhaps just their sensibilities at understanding an aloof, isolated,
lost soul, who is depicted a bit too pretty, perfect and dapper even in
the pinnacle of his youth...not the Salinger I think anyone who really
related to or understood someone deeply tortured as he would
characterize him. It kind of felt like Matt Damon/pretty boy of the
week doing his best Toby MacQuire (he would have actually been a better
casting choice, the pre-Spiderman less Hollywood Toby we knew from The
Icestorm or Pleasantville Days, that is...or perhaps even a Zach Braff
circa Garden State type lead, if one must cast an up-and-coming star
with socially aloof predilections). But Nicholas Hoult, whoever you are
(I don't really follow current celebrity trends)...you are no young
Then there's Kevin Spacey, who, looking plump and unpolished, is still one of my least favorite actors (House of whatever, shut up, yes I know)...he's the same in every movie to me. For the first few scenes in the classroom, I actually found myself questioning if it was really Spacey indeed, for the first time in my life finding him in a persona where I didn't immediately recognize, "Oh, I'm watching Kevin Spacey being Kevin Spacey, trying to act." I'm almost certain those classroom scenes were looped (ADR) with his or another actor's voice, because mid-way through the movie Kevin's distinct lispy dialog crept back in, and suddenly I was just watching Kevin Spacey be himself again. I'm not sure who the actor was who dubbed over his voices during the first act, but I did enjoy that side of Spacey, a side where for once I forget who he was. An uneven performance? To say the least.
Perhaps most annoyingly, Basil Exposition kept popping up...the writers/filmmakers over-use of catchwords like "phonies" and "giving' her the time" ripped from the pages of Catcher were cute the first time, not really the second time, and by the fourth or fifth repetition I wondered if they really understood anything beyond a cursory textbook, tabloid interpretation of Salinger and his life at all.
I found myself waiting for the movie to end. Like many, this is one of my favorite books of all time, and this film attempt flopped short of any hopeful expectation.
Perhaps this first deeply flawed attempt will serve as an impetus for better writers/filmmakers/historians/researchers to come along, and finally do justice to the man and the masterpiece that have captivated and touched lost souls across this lonely planet for so long.
I'll still be waiting in the rye.
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