- Colin Fraser
MY SALINGER YEAR
THREE STARS A young woman lands a job at a literary agency, home to J.D. Salinger.
Sigourney Weaver, Margart Qualley
DRAMA USA #MYSALINGERYEAR
What MY SALINGER YEAR lacks in originality it makes up for in its generous depiction of a wide-eyed young woman finding her place in the world. This is the not unfamiliar yarn of the aspiring artist (a poet) who finds the courage to drop the day-job and follow her heart, a story given a twist by the inclusion of a reclusive literary great who gives her a push along the creative road.
It’s 1995 and Joanna (the compelling Margaret Qualley) secures a role as clerical assistant to chain-smoking literary agent Margaret (Sigourney Weaver). Hers is a minor agency with one major client, J.D. Salinger. Joanna’s position is clear - do whatever Margaret asks her to do, do not harbour any pretensions about being, or becoming, a writer and above all else, don’t engage with the agency’s cash-cow. Ever.
And Joanna does what she’s told, up to a point. Although what transpires is not unexpected, it is an enjoyable account of how the creative drive wins out, and under the right circumstances with the right encouragement, goes on to win the hearts of those around it.
As he demonstrated with 2011’s terrific MONSIEUR LAZHAR, director Philippe Falardeau has a rewardingly light touch that allows his characters to reveal themselves and, more importantly, his actors to fully inhabit those characters. Although Qualley is the beacon around which the movie pivots, it is Weaver’s restraint that lets the story open out.
There’s something of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA lurking in the edges of Margaret’s being, but rather given in to the temptation of hysteria Weaver tones it down - more school ma’am than monster - and moves the emphasis back to Joanna. It’s a star turn that makes for a more gentle and more honest experience.
As differences with her boyfriend are resolved and Joanna opens out into the world during an all-singing, all-dancing dream sequence, you’d be forgiven for feeling that MY SALINGER YEAR has its feet in two worlds: a wood-panelled past that never really existed and a semi-serious future that it can’t quite get a handle on.
The wavering tone is unsettling but if you embrace the narrative’s aspiration, rather than the reality it awkwardly presents, there’s enough inspirational appeal to see you through. It’s won’t be the year’s best film, but with Qualley and Weaver on board, it does have a lot going for it.