Susan Granger’s review of “Rebel in the Rye” (IFC Films)
Since J.D. Salinger repeatedly refused to allow a movie to be made of “The Catcher in the Rye,” filmmaker Danny Strong decided to dramatize the story of how and why this literary classic was written.
Adapting Kenneth Slawenski’s biography, Strong (co-creator of the TV series “Empire”) asserts not only that Holden Caulfield was Salinger’s alter ego but also that Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, was Sally Hayes.
When he was 22, Jerome David Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) fell madly in love with then-16 year-old Oona (Zoey Deutch). Flanked by socialites Gloria Vanderbilt and Carol Marcus (who married William Saroyan), Oona played coy with many suitors, including Orson Welles and cartoonist Peter Arno; in 1942, she was dubbed Debutante of the Year.
But Salinger persisted and, when he went off to fight in W.W. II, Oona promised to wait for him. So when he read in the newspaper that she’d married 53 year-old Charlie Chaplin, he was devastated.
Dispatched to Europe just in time for D-Day, Salinger was permanently scarred by the brutality that he witnessed on the front lines, suffering what we now know as PTSD. Nevertheless, encouraged by his agent (Sarah Paulson), he kept working on his 1951 novel about poignant adolescent angst.
Translated into 30 languages, it has sold 65 million copies and continues to sell 250,000 copies a year!
From childhood, Salinger felt tortured. Encouraged by his mother (Hope Davis) but thwarted by his critical father (Victor Garber), he studied creative writing at Columbia under Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey), editor of “Story” magazine, who became his mentor, insisting that Holden Caulfield was worthy of his own novel.
Salinger later published “Franny and Zooey,” “Nine Stories” and other minor works. Married three times, he eventually chose a reclusive life of Zen Buddhism and meditation, isolated in the Cornish, New Hampshire woods until his death in 2010.
Despite Strong’s best efforts, the essence of J.D. Salinger remains elusive.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Rebel in the Rye” is a feeble 5, cheesy and implausible.