J.D. Salinger, the conflicted, overwrought author of "The Catcher in the Rye" in Danny Strong's biopic, has long been the subject of multiple exposes into his reclusive life. Starring Nicholas Hoult as the enigmatic writer, "Rebel in the Rye" focuses on Salinger's earlier years during World War II and the writing of his American classic.
Jerry David Salinger was adrift, having flunked or dropped out of multiple Ivy League colleges. His father (Victor Garber) strongly urges his son to abandon his dream of writing and begin a career in the meat and cheese distribution business. But his mother --- it's always the mother --- (Hope Davis) insists that Jerry enroll at Columbia and his father will pay for it. The die has been cast.
At Columbia, Jerry enrolls in Whit Burnett's (Kevin Spacey) class. The maker of literary kings and himself a writer and magazine publisher, Burnett is quick to appreciate Jerry's talent --- without telling him, of course.
A tumultuous affair with Oona O'Neill (Zoey Deutch), playwright Eugene O'Neill's estranged daughter, and a publishing contract with "The New Yorker" magazine, helped along by his agent Dorothy Olding (Sarah Paulson), put Salinger on the road to celebrity and literary success. But the onset of World War II changes Jerry's life irrevocably.
He is sent to the European front where he participates in D-Day in Normandy. He survives, barely --- all the while keeping his favorite character, Holden Caulfield, ever present in his thoughts and writings.
Upon his return to the U.S., and after his relationship with Burnett erupts in disaster, Salinger turns to meditation to recover his sanity and his ability to write. Many, including Burnett, have advised Salinger that Holden Caulfield deserves his own novel instead of a short story. So Salinger sets out to complete his most famous work.
Perhaps some may view "Rebel in the Rye" as imperfect --- I was captivated by Hoult's performance. Since his small but mesmerizing role in "A Single Man", Hoult has proven again and again what a talent he is.
Because so much has been written and analyzed about Salinger, portraying him, in my mind, would be a nightmare. But Hoult energizes his reclusive nature, helping us to see and understand this complicated, brilliant author.
The rest of the cast, most notably Spacey and Paulson, is stellar. "Rebel in the Rye" is a quiet, methodical biopic, but each of the actors gives the performance necessary to keep the narrative humming. Burnett is simply bereft that his precious Jerry will not forgive him, and there is no one better than Spacey to convey those feelings.
"Rebel in the Rye" is the exact kind of film David and I enjoy best. Solid portrayals and writing abound about a figure of significant import --- satisfying movie fare for the end of the summer.
Opinion: See It Now!
Most of us have read or at least heard of "The Catcher in the Rye". "Rebel in the Rye", a new film from first-time feature director Danny Strong, tells the fascinating, and somewhat depressing saga of the life of J.D. Salinger, the author known to family and friends as Jerry.
Nicholas Hoult is superb as Jerry, the complex writer who desperately wants to be published, with the fame and fortune that could ensure his admiration in the literary world. Yet when success finally arrives for him, he rejects it. Since such notoriety often comes with the downside of deceitful journalists, deranged fans, and people with great expectations, Salinger becomes notably disenchanted.
Hoult is an actor in much demand. His performances in films like "Warm Bodies" and the underrated "Jack the Giant Slayer" prepared him well for his convincing portrayal of the world-renowned author of a book some consider one of the most important novels of the 20th century.
Jerry relies heavily on his former teacher, Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey), who inspires him early on to continue his writing, despite one rejection after another. Spacey, one of a handful of actors who instantly captures the viewer's attention, is the kind of performer who delivers in every role.
It is Jerry's mother, played by Hope Davis, who provides the much-needed support for his craft, critical to offset the constant denigration from his father, Sol (Victor Garber), who wants him to be a meat and cheese distributor in the family tradition. Davis is as endearing in her role as Garber is unlikeable in his. These two veteran character actors provide revealing insights into Salinger's home life as a youth.
The film offers details of Salinger's life most people aren't aware of, like his military service during D-Day --- which resulted in a severe case of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) --- and his failed romance with Oona O'Neill, who became the spouse of Charlie Chaplain. Strong, who co-wrote the script, is a double Emmy winner for "Game Change" (2012), the terrific made-for-TV/Golden Globe- winning movie that enlightened viewers about Sarah Palin, and her eventual choice by John McCain as his running mate in 2008.
Interesting facts about "The Catcher in the Rye" are revealed at the end of this film: 65 million copies in print, translated into 30 languages, still selling 250,000 copies annually after its initial publication 66 years ago. "Rebel in the Rye" may inspire a whole new generation of readers to pick up a copy of the book, and even more remarkably, it may encourage older generations to re-visit the novel of their youth.
Opinion: See It Now!