All the way back in the year of 2002, I watched a film that was one of the best of that year. It was called “About a Boy.” While one could easily make a case for the title being more about the grown-up in the story, the boy in question was none other than Nicholas Hoult (“X-Men: Apocalypse”). Although he had appeared in some movies, beforehand, this was to be the start of something truly special. Fast-forward to 2017: Hoult has reprised an important role in the Marvel movie universe, several times over and has at least one more reprise, still ahead. Perhaps, even greater than all of this, Hoult has become one of the names and personas that many people recognize. What does one do when such a situation has arisen? The answer, or at least part of it, might well be in the role of a character that could wind up becoming something pretty memorable. Biopics will be a mainstay in film for years to come and here is the latest: “Rebel in the Rye.”
Hoult is JD Salinger, an American author, known by most casual readers as the man who penned “The Catcher in the Rye.” Beyond this, more avid readers probably recall Salinger as a writer who might have made even greater contributions in modern literature, but decided to set his sights on a more ideal lifestyle for one who wished to go anonymous, in the face of much stardom.
Congratulations should be paid to Danny Strong for the arrival to his director’s chair. Keep in mind, Strong has been involved in acting and writing for a number of years, preceding his debut, here, as the director. He also wrote the screenplay to this film, as well. It was based on a book, which singles out a specific time in the life of Salinger. What helps to make that so notable is the fact that Salinger was a man of his early 20s during the time of American involvement in World War II.
As the story begins, you will be swept away to the sights and sounds of America in the 1940s. Although this time in history has been well-represented, throughout the years of American cinema, the experience, in my view, has not lost its charm and still feels like new, despite all of the apparent cliches. From the beginning, Salinger comes off as an awkward individual, lost somewhere between the trappings of sophomoric desires and a push/pull scenario from his parents and educators, who all want to see him succeed in some shape or form. If you do not find Salinger all too likable, I can assure you that there is at least one person who felt the same way while watching this movie.
Romance plays a rather important role in the film, as it does with a great many others. In fact, a key component is established almost immediately. Her name was Oona O’Neill (played by Zoey Deutch, “Before I Fall”). For those of you whom are keenly familiar with the life of JD Salinger, the way the story unfolds with O’Neill will not likely interest you, but for the rest of us, it should, at the very least, suffice on a superficial level. I should point out that much of the movie feels superficial in its execution. That goes for even the most personal moments of Salinger. All the time, I was wondering about the intentions of those behind the making of this film. If they had sought out to accurately portray the perception of JD Salinger, then they did a fairly decent job. However, most audience members are more interested in connecting to the protagonist on a personal level and I think that is going to be a difficult thing to do with “Rebel in the Rye.”
Outside of the somewhat captivating performance of Kevin Spacey (“Baby Driver”) as Whit Burnett, most of the performances are only successful on the surface. Hoult, in my estimation, delivered a nice performance as Salinger, but I liked almost nothing about the man, himself, within the context of the story.
I certainly enjoyed watching the process of how this man materialized within his stories and I think that the original music of the film could reach some important people before the year of 2017 is out, but it would seem that much of the potential for “Rebel in the Rye” is going to go waist, partially due to the timing of its release into theaters, but also due to unfortunate lack of interest and appeal of this story from critics and audience participants, alike.
There is a part of me that wants to praise the movie for what it did affectively, but much like the portrayal of Salinger, I am a bit stuck. On the one hand, Hoult was good, as was Spacey. The story showed me a unique point-of-view concerning war, coming from a talented young writer, but on the other hand, I cannot see myself remembering much about this movie, or warranting another viewing because there was something about the film that I wanted to see again. It kind of reminds me of when I was making a new dip last week: when I looked upon the ingredients before I began, everything appeared promising, but once I emptied the blender, it all looked much less appetizing. Did it taste good? Yes, but was it a hit as the house party? No. Like my dip, this film will be remembered more for its effort than its actual indulgence.
Director: Danny Strong
Screenwriter: Danny Strong
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Zooey Deutch, Kevin Spacey, Sarah Paulson (“Blue Jay”) as Dorothy Olding, Brian d’Arcy James (“Spotlight”) as Giroux, Victor Garber (“Sicario”) as Sol Salinger, Hope Davis (“Captain America: Civil War”) as Miriam Salinger and Lucy Boynton (“Sing Street”) as Claire Douglas
Music: Bear McCreary
Distributor: IFC Films
Release: September 15th, 2017