Movie Review: IFC Films' Rebel in the Rye - #RebelintheRye



Rebel in the Rye
Director: Danny Strong
Writers: Danny Strong, Kenneth Slawenski
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey and Zoey Deutch
Social Handles: Site | IMDb
#RebelintheRye
The world of legendary writer J. D. Salinger is brought vividly to life in this revealing look at the experiences that shaped one of the most renowned, controversial, and enigmatic authors of our time. Set amidst the colorful backdrop of mid-20th century New York City, Rebel in the Rye follows a young Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) as he struggles to find his voice, pursues a love affair with famed socialite Oona O’Neill (Zoey Deutch), and fights on the frontlines of World War II. It’s these experiences that will inform the creation of his masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye, bringing him overnight fame (and notoriety) and leading him to withdraw from the public eye for the rest of his life. Costarring Kevin Spacey and Sarah Paulson, Rebel in the Rye offers a tantalizing window into the life and times of a little-understood genius who broke the rules and redefined American literature.


It is strange to have a movie about the life of J.D. Salinger.  The author of The Catcher in the Rye was a notorious recluse.  By all accounts, Salinger alienated just about everyone in his life and avoided public attention.  And, oddly, it is that exact reclusiveness which makes bibliophiles yearn to know more about Salinger. I was very much looking forward to this week’s Rebel in the Rye and it did not disappoint.

Anyone who has read The Catcher in the Rye, and appreciated it, will enjoy this film.  I hesitate to call Rebel a “biopic.” I don’t trust that Rebel is any more an actual depiction of Salinger’s life than Catcher was.  We (the public) can’t know the exact details of Salinger’s life and his thought processes.  Salinger didn’t tell anyone.  And, while some biographies on Salinger attempt to piece together some of the mystery of the author, the truth is that we will never know.  Rebel is enjoyable as one take on Salinger and as an almost big-screen adaptation of Catcher.  The parallels between Catcher and Rebel took me back to my first reading of Catcher (and Franny and Zooey) and made me want to dig up my old copy so that I could read it again.  

I enjoyed the casting of the film.  Nicholas Hoult (as Salinger) has developed into a great screen presence.  It has to be difficult to translate some of Salinger’s insane thought processes onto screen, but Hoult did it very well.  Kevin Spacey (as Whit Burnett) played the mentor role perfectly.  I love, love, love Spacey, in everything.  It’s almost not fair to put a young actor opposite Spacey, but Hoult and Spacey complemented each other beautifully.  Sarah Paulson (as Dorothy Olding) added a great dimension to the cast.  Her last scene with Spacey was awesome. 

I did have some trouble with the pacing of Rebel. The pacing is uneven throughout.  I didn’t mind it because the pacing is uneven in Catcher, and I hope that the uneven pace was a nod to the book. Still, Rebel sort of sticks in the middle.  (This means I looked at my watch.) It’s about an eight minute stick. After that, the story shifts a bit and I didn’t notice anymore sticking.  But, to be honest, I even liked the stuck part of the movie, because it reminded me of being stuck during my first reading of Catcher.

The nostalgia factor for Rebel is through the roof.  The film brings back familiar phrases from my college days and attempts to answer some of the questions readers of Catcher had about its author.  It’s good nostalgia.  The movie attempts to do Salinger justice and attempts to explain some of his idiosyncrasies in a respectful manner.  Even better,  Rebel is a real slice of Americana, and a good excuse to re-visit some of the classics.

Rebel in the Rye opens everywhere this weekend.  Head out to the art house theater, take in some Americana, get to know an American author and let the nostalgia hit you. 


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