I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of “Catcher in the Rye.” It hit me at the right time, as a disaffected youth, like it also does to a lot of young wannabe serial killers, so I usually admit this reluctantly. I haven’t read it in nearly ten years but I always wonder if “adult” me will grow weary of the novel in the same way looking back at the stage show RENT when you’re 40 sometimes makes you grumble “just get a job already.” Rebel in the Rye follows a young JD Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) around the time he wrote “Catcher in the Rye.”
Written and directed by Danny Strong (creator of Empire, writer of Game Change and Recount but really the guy that played Jonathan on Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Rebel is a sometimes interesting, always engaging, somewhat by the numbers film. It gets a lot right. Hoult is great as the eventually reclusive Salinger, and Kevin Spacey (whom I’m usually not on board with) as Salinger mentor Whit Burnett is a lot of fun. Hope Davis, Sarah Paulson, and Victor Garber provide worthy support.
Given how much of himself Salinger poured into Holden Caulfield, Strong peppers the film with hints and inspirations throughout, but the film still falls short of true greatness. On the one hand, films about writers (and the endless scenes of watching them right) have an inherent dullness baked in. It’s such an internal process, it never comes across well on screen. There were some amazing sequences, Salinger in World War II and his trouble coming home most notably, but there were interesting chunks of his life left out of the film. Salinger met and continued correspondence with Ernest Hemingway. That’s crazy interesting, but was left out of the film completely. Salinger’s foray into Zen Buddhism was touched upon rather abruptly. And no mention that his son Matt was Captain America in the truly awful 90s movie? Okay, that makes sense.
Rebel in the Rye is perfectly okay film. It has some nice performances, and is nicely paced. It just never strives to be anything greater and given the talent of everyone involved I feel like it could’ve been.
My Grade – B-