Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Sarah Paulson, Hope Davis, Victor Garber, Zoey Deutch, Lucy Boynton, Brian d'Arcy James, Adam Busch, James Urbaniak, Eric Bogosian, Anna Bullard
Written by: Danny Strong, based on a book by Kenneth Slawenski
Directed by: Danny Strong
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language including sexual references, brief violence, and smoking
Running Time: 106
Date: 09/14/2017

Rebel in the Rye (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Ripe Bananafish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Just about everyone who grew up in the past sixty years reading and loving books has come across J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and discovered something of themselves within its pages; it's one of those cultural beacons that somehow represents the human condition. Salinger, who died in 2010, famously refused to sell the movie rights to his works (only one of his short stories, "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut," was adapted for the screen, made into a movie called My Foolish Heart). Now here comes a most conventional, but smoothly watchable, biopic.

Nicholas Hoult is a tall, handsome Salinger, irritated by the "phonies" around him and taking classes from Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey). Burnett is also the editor of Story magazine, which publishes Salinger's first story; in his delightfully clipped delivery, Spacey issues various rules and truths about writing that will surely resonate with any writers watching the movie. Burnett urges Salinger to turn a short story character, Holden Caulfield, into a novel, but he has trouble with it. He goes off to fight in WWII, and the horrors he sees eventually help him complete the novel. This brings him fame and stalker-like fans, so he goes into seclusion, only completing a few more works, evading publicity, and retaining strict control over his output.

You know the story. As unique a writer as Salinger is, the movie's journey is familiar, with writer/director Danny Strong connecting the dots of what happened without much time for feeling or ambiguity. (Even the title is blandly declarative.) But, if they're not overly protective of their hero, then fans may enjoy seeing some of this legendary stuff played out, if even on the surface. Sarah Paulson plays a sharp, chatty agent, Zoey Deutch plays Oona O'Neill, whom Salinger loses to Charlie Chaplin (!), and Victor Garber and Hope Davis play Salinger's parents.

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