My Salinger Year stars Margaret Qualley as Joanna Rakoff, a wide-eyed twenty something who has dropped everything, including her steady boyfriend and college degree, to become a writer in 1995 New York.
She soon finds a position at a literary agency whose most famous client is none other than J. D. Salinger, author of the classic New York novel, Catcher in the Rye, and recipient of thousands of letters from devoted fanatics.
Sigourney Weaver provides colour as Joanna’s stern yet glamorous boss Margaret, constantly swilling martinis, draped in cashmere, and distrusting of any technology more advanced than the typewriter. Her representing of some past golden age reflect this film’s own fascination with the 90’s period setting, blissfully pre internet.
Joanna’s chief responsibility involves answering Salinger’s fan mail via standard responses, then shredding the letters. Throughout the film, we are treated to charming snippets of obsessive Salinger fans in their own environment, offering insight as to the cultish devotion that Salinger inspires in some readers.
However, My Salinger Year is far more occupied with Joanna’s own creative journey, and what follows is essentially a coming of age tale by way of the Devil Wears Prada, as Joanna struggles between creative passions and making ends meet, torn between doing right by the prestigious agency and making the apparently major sacrifices required for her to write.
Yet this conflict feels predictable from the moment the phrase ‘based on the true story’ appears on the screen accompanied by the narrated words ‘I’ve always wanted to be a writer’. True to form, Joanna spends a lot of time staring out of windows or walking through the rain. Her dodgy socialist boyfriend Don (Douglas Booth), further diffuses any tension as an obvious deadbeat from beginning to end.
Despite all this, My Salinger Year is distinctly enjoyable, helped along both by a strong central performance from Qualley and particularly aesthetic production design. Compared to the contemporary, 1990’s New York is evidently a nice place to be.
This is a conventional tale of aspiration and self-growth that may find appeal within a young adult market. While each narrative beat is hit dead on the mark and the central Salinger-related concept falls slightly to the wayside, it can certainly be defined as a comfort film to those craving a different decade.
My Salinger Year releases on January 14th
Reviewed by Gina Cameron