Rebel in the Rye **

Way to tarnish the memory of an icon, “Rebel in the Rye.” 

Is it worth $10? No 

We’ve seen it so many times: Young artist strives to be great in his field, naysayers tell him it can’t be done (in this case it’s the father (Victor Garber)). Artist shows promise, so a mentor (Kevin Spacey) is extra tough on him. Social circumstances (World War II) force a deviation from the career, but make him better at his craft. He struggles with more personal and professional obstacles, but ultimately finds great success. This could describe Walt Disney (if it were World War I) or many others, but in “Rebel In The Rye” it tells the story of author J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult). And the real Salinger, who died in 2010, would be appalled at the unoriginal cliché this movie makes his life out to be.

Throughout the film Salinger repeatedly says he wants his work be truthful, not sanitized escapist clichés, yet that’s exactly how the film feels. It’s as if writer/director Danny Strong created the screenplay by taking Salinger’s biography and dumping it into a Hollywood formula machine, and this movie is what the machine puked out.

What’s more, much is made of how Holden Caulfield, the main character in Salinger’s seminal “The Catcher in the Rye,” is based on Salinger’s life. Those who’ve read the book know Holden was full of sarcasm and cynicism. Holden is also a character to whom it is easy for many to relate; ironically, it’s notably more difficult to relate to the arrogant, wealthy, mentally disturbed Salinger depicted here.

Who knows – perhaps, given that Salinger lived in isolation in New Hampshire for most of his adult life, a mentally disturbed vision of him is a truthful one. Hoult does what he can to make Salinger sympathetic, and to be sure there are moments when your heart goes out to him. But pretentiousness, and selfishness, are hard characteristics to overlook when trying to like the protagonist. Supporting turns from Spacey, Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch and Hope Davis are respectable, but not enough to overcome the film’s notable flaws.

To his credit, Strong provides insight into Salinger’s writing process, and it’s in these moments that the film is most fascinating because it shares something we can’t learn in a biography page. It’s not just his inspiration for Holden that we find appealing, but how Salinger goes about creating him that is equally as interesting. If only the rest of the film were this intriguing.

The bottom line with “Rebel in the Rye” is this: You do not, and cannot, honor the author of arguably the most beloved novel of the 20th century with such a by the numbers, conventional biopic.

Did you know?
“The Catcher in the Rye” has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide and is a staple in high school English curriculums. Per Salinger’s request the film rights have never been sold, even though Billy Wilder, Steven Spielberg and other notables have expressed interest.