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Rebel in the Rye


Well Done and Very Interesting

Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements, language including sexual references, some violence, and smoking throughout
Studio: IFC Films
Runtime: 109 minutes
Our Rating:
Directed by: Danny Strong
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Zoey Deutch, Brian d'Arcy James, Laura Dern, Hope Davis
Review by Diana Saenger

Entertainment has become a massive part of our lives through many different venues. One of the interesting things we read among critics is that the same film will most likely have numerous different viewpoints. That’s okay because moviegoers also have diverse likes.

I was excited to see Rebel in the Rye, the biopic of legendary author J.D. Salinger who wrote The Catcher in the Rye book. Danny Strong directs the film. He and Kenneth Slawenski wrote the script adapted from Slawenski’s book J.D. Salinger: A Life.

We first meet Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) in 1946 in the class room of writing teacher Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey). Salinger doesn’t pay much attention in the class which doesn’t go unnoticed by Burnett. If fact there’s a little adverse banter between them in the class when Burnett responds to a comment by Salinger that is absurd.

Spacey, Hoult

After looking at some of Salinger’s work Burnett mentors him on his mistakes; and encourages him to continue on when it seems he took Burnett’s comments too hard. Salinger knows this is the career for him. But he gets little encouragement from his teacher, and his dad (Victor Garber) who tells him he has no talent and will not pay for him to go to Columbia. However, his mother (Hope Davis) sees he needs encouragement and tells her husband they will pay for his college.

Salinger begins to write short stories and is sure the New Yorker will publish them. When he gets rejections, Burnett, the editor of Story magazine becomes a mentor again and encourages Salinger to keep writing. Eventually Salinger meets Oona O'Neill (Zoey Deutch) and likes her but she seems to be more of a tease than have a true interest in him.

Salinger becomes more down in the dumps when he’s drafted into the Marine Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor and is in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Salinger is determined to keep writing his stories whenever he can steal a few minutes. When he’s finally out of the military and returns home; he is not the same. Everything he experienced in the war has left him with … what we call today... PTSD.


Burnett continues to encourage him, but when he meets literary agent Dorothy Olding (Sarah Paulson), he has hope as she helps him publish some stories. Not wanting to make changes the newspapers want, they won’t publish some of his stories. Now even more disturbed Salinger meets Swami Nikhilananda (Bernard White), a teacher of Zen Buddhism, and he learns how to deal with rejection.

Paulson, Hoult

At this time Burnett encourages him to turn one of his stories that made a lot of sale about a man called Holden Caulfield into a novel. Salinger does, and it becomes the very successful book, Catcher in the Rye. Eventually Salinger finds property away from cities and people, gets married, has two children and then gets a divorce.

The film is well done and very interesting. Nicholas Hoult has a great presence as Salinger. Spacey serves his role well, half strong mentor, and also a friend who cares. I enjoyed learning more about this icon, and Strong’s film that spans decades.

Salinger died of natural causes at his home in New Hampshire on January 27, 2010. He was 91

Recommended Audience:
Those who like true stories well delivered