Rebel in the Rye
It’s difficult to be objective in super fan situations like these, but for the sake of professionalism it’s best to be up front and admit that the main — and nearly lone — appeal of Rebel in the Rye is that it’s about J.D. Salinger.
Viewers who aren’t fond of his writing nor mildly interested in his life while he was a publishing author aren’t going to have much with which to connect, and even those who do are all but guaranteed to have their own wealth of issues with the deeply flawed but well-intentioned work.
The directorial debut of Danny Strong — who wrote the underrated Lee Daniels' The Butler and co-wrote both parts of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, but may still be best known for playing Doyle on Gilmore Girls — the film picks up with Jerry (a serviceable Nicholas Hoult) at the time he answers the call to be a writer.
Competently made with a decent yet ultimately insufficient amount of tripod use, Rebel in the Rye surrounds its cast with respectable period detail, vividly bringing pre- and post-WWII New York City to believable life — though less so with the war itself.
From within that timeframe also comes the film’s lone great performance, that of Kevin Spacey as Jerry’s Columbia University creative writing teacher Whit Burnett.
Victor Garber and Hope Davis are fine as Jerry’s parents, as are Sarah Paulson as his agent and Zoey Deutch and Lucy Boynton as love interests, but whenever Spacey is onscreen the production enters a level of quality that’s unmatched by its other components.
As for the storytelling, beyond a handful of extended, realistic interactions among the core players, it feels like little more than a checklist of Salinger details fans know well.
Rarely presented in creative ways, scenes and lines of dialogue that become integral parts of The Catcher in the Rye and Salinger’s other stories come off as unnatural and awkward for the uninitiated and downright painful for the faithful who are confident their man’s story deserves better.
Clearly working above his skill level, Rebel in the Rye is nonetheless a fine first try for Strong and considerably better than Shane Salerno’s moronic 2012 documentary, Salinger. For now, that’ll have to do.
Grade: B-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: IFC Films)