My Salinger Year is a charming coming-of-age film that draws on Joanna Rakoff’s experience working at an agency representing J.D. Salinger.
Joanna Rakoff (Margaret Qualley) leaves grad school for New York in hopes of starting a writing career. Next thing you know, she’s working for Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) at a literary agency. The agency is old school with typewriters everywhere and nary a computer in sight. It certainly is not a smart idea to inform Margaret that she also wants to be a writer. Do writers make good secretaries or agents? Maybe but I don’t know. One more thing–this agency just happens to represent that of Jerry aka J.D. Salinger (Tim Post). We hear Salinger every now and then on the phone but only see him in a few scenes. The film makes it a point to not making the reclusive author the main focus of the film.
In addition to her assistant–cough secretarial cough–duties, Joanna is placed in charge of responding to Salinger’s fan mail. There’s been a form letter in place since the 1960s. All responses must be based on said form. It’s hard to read these letters and not respond to them. But lo and behold, Joanna starts to personalize the responses. It’s not right and probably not ethical but hey, better a response from someone that read the letter!
Funny enough, Joanna’s time at the agency coincides with a Virginia publisher wanting to publish “Hapworth 16, 1929,” a short story first published in The New Yorker. This plays out in the film similar to the way it happened in real life. Not surprisingly, some things take dramatic licenses. If you want to know how things play out in real life, it’s best to read the book. Even for a film based on a memoir, Philippe Falardeau makes a lot of liberties with the script. There are scenes that are outright invented for the film although I want to believe that something similar actually happened. Oh, well.
It’s hard to believe that a film set in the 1990s is a period film but My Salinger Year is exactly that. Yes, referring as such to a film set 25 years ago makes me feel old. But again, this is an office that is largely devoid of computers and cell phones. Technology was changing but the agency as depicted in the film was very old school.
It’s impossible not to make some comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada. The only difference is that Joanna Rakoff’s memoir is non-fiction while novelist Lauren Weisberger wrote fiction. Some names are different from real life but Rakoff previously wrote about her experience in Slate following Salinger’s death. And yet, both films equally have their own moments of humor. But that’s as far as I’ll write about comparisons. There is certainly no Emily Blunt stealing the show! It’s very much Joanna’s story through and through. I won’t lie in that some of my favorite moments are when Salinger calls the agency and speaks to Joanna. Who wouldn’t want to get writing advice from one of the most reclusive authors in the world?
The ever reclusive J.D. Salinger may hover throughout My Salinger Year but film itself is a charmer.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Philippe Falardeau
CAST: Margaret Qualley, Sigourney Weaver, Douglas Booth, Seána Kerslake, with Colm Feore and Brian F. O’Byrne