Review by Sean Boelman
My Salinger Year is the rare literary drama following someone other than an acclaimed writer that actually works. Well-acted and frequently genuinely charming, the film is definitely more than a bit familiar, but it manages to overcome its conventional nature to be a mostly charming watch.
Based on the memoir by Joanna Smith Rakoff, the movie tells the story of an aspiring writer who becomes the secretary to J.D. Salinger’s literary agent. At first, it seems as if this is going to be the type of famous-adjacent type of story that can tend to be annoying, but writer-director Philippe Falardeau manages to make the most out of Rakoff’s tale.
Some of the conflict in the film leans a bit heavily into melodrama, especially the portions dealing with Rakoff’s romantic life. Viewers will likely be more invested in Rakoff’s literary pursuits, both in dealing with Salinger and in trying to become a writer in her own right, and subplots such as the love triangle only serve to pad the runtime.
That said, when the movie works, it really works. Falardeau’s greatest success is in developing the relationships that Rakoff shares with her two mentor figures: Salinger, from whom she gets occasional unsolicited advice over the phone, and his agent, who has a much firmer hand. This dynamic is very compelling and what allows the film to shine.
The movie’s effectiveness at developing its supporting characters is less consistent. Salinger is turned into an almost mythic figure in this film, and while he is well-known for his reclusivity, the movie tries to present a take on him that doesn’t always work. As for the agent character, Falardeau tries to give her a subplot of her own, but doesn’t develop it enough for it to be of much substance.
Still, Sigourney Weaver manages to turn in a very impressive performance despite playing a character whose existence is merely to serve the protagonist. It’s her best work in years, so hopefully she continues to get roles like this that aren’t small (albeit fun) self-referential cameos. Margaret Qualley’s performance is fine, but she is playing the same type as usual. And Brían F. O’Byrne and Colm Feore are strong in the supporting cast.
Falardeau’s visual style with the film does leave something to be desired. There are a lot of moments of ambition with cross-cutting and even some surreal sequences, but none of these ever pay off as a whole. For the most part, it’s an oversaturated comedy with a lack of periodization.
My Salinger Year isn’t the most original movie, but it’s sweet and funny enough to be enjoyable nevertheless. If nothing else, it’s excellent proof that we are about to enter the renaissance of Sigourney Weaver.
My Salinger Year hits theaters and VOD on March 5.