Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sundance with Abe: Rebel in the Rye

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fourth time. I’ll be seeing as many movies as I can and offering reviews throughout the week.

Rebel in the Rye
Directed by Danny Strong

Famed artists tend to lead tortured lives. That’s especially true of writers whose most well-known works center on troubled characters who do not fit in with their society. One of the most famous books of the twentieth century is J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” and it stands to reason that its author led a compelling life that enabled him to craft such an unforgettable character. The formative experiences that shaped Salinger are more than sufficient for a biopic of a man who never desired to be what others wanted him to be yet still managed to exceed their expectations.

J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult), referred to as Jerry by those closest to him, is introduced as a young man very skilled at getting himself kicked out of school. When he enrolls in a Columbia writing course with a renowned professor, Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey), he finds his inspiration, and invests all his energy in trying to get a short story published by the New Yorker. As Whit becomes his mentor, J.D. begins writing about Holden Caulfield, an invented friend he brings with him when he goes to war and finds his life irreversibly transformed by his time abroad.

Though “Rebel in the Eye” begins with Salinger in 1946 sharing that he never intended for his life to end up this way and then flashes back to the events that led to that moment, the film is actually presented in a relatively linear and narrative fashion. It’s easy to see how Salinger becomes less and less tethered to society, angry that he has not achieved success and then, once he has, not eager to conform to anyone’s idea of what he should be – and certainly not willing to take anyone’s notes on his writing. He just wants to write and doesn’t want anyone telling him how he should do that.

Hoult, who broke out before his growth spurt over a decade ago in “About a Boy,” has recently made a number of films that show his range and adaptability to each character. Salinger may well be one of his less dynamic roles, but he still embodies it fully and presents a portrait of a man consumed by his craft. Spacey is a more than adequate screen partner for him, standing out among the supporting cast as the man who put Salinger on the right track. The film as a whole is engaging and interesting, and though it may not be the most eye-opening or invigorating film ever made, it’s still an educational and thought-provoking ride.


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