My Salinger Year
Heartfelt literary memoir has language, mature moments.
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My Salinger Year
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that My Salinger Year is an adaptation of Joanna Rakoff's memoir about the year she spent working as a personal assistant at the literary agency that represented infamously reclusive author J.D. Salinger. There's occasional strong language ("f--k," "s--t") and a few scenes of couples kissing, dancing, and having sex. In one post-sex scene, a man types while naked, although all that viewers see is his shirtless chest and bare legs. Although there's no overt violence, there are discussions of Salinger's time in World War II and a fan who writes to him about watching friends die in Vietnam. Those familiar with Salinger's work and reputation will appreciate the film most. Margaret Qualley stars as Joanna.
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What's the Story?
Based on Joanna Rakoff's same-named memoir, MY SALINGER YEAR tells the story of Joanna (Margaret Qualley), a young woman in her early 20s who, in the mid '90s, leaves her master's program and her college boyfriend in Berkeley and moves in with her best friend in Brooklyn to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Joanna gets a job as the assistant to old-school literary agent Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) at a storied agency that represented everyone from the late Agatha Christie and F. Scott Fitzgerald to the notoriously reclusive "Jerry" -- aka J.D. Salinger. One of Joanna's main jobs is to respond to all of Salinger's fan mail with a form letter saying that the author doesn't accept the letters, so they can't pass them on to him. Joanna, who starts dating would-be writer/bookseller Don (Douglas Booth), decides to impulsively break the rules and write to a few of the fans as herself. She also speaks to Jerry nearly every time he calls to talk to Margaret, and he ends up giving her advice about the craft of writing.
Is It Any Good?
Qualley is charming as the young writer who ends up answering Salinger's fan mail in this entertaining, earnest adaptation of Rakoff's literary memoir. With her wide, expressive eyes, Qualley is ideally cast as eager Joanna, who happily lives in a terrible floor-through in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with her leftist writer boyfriend, and wears a different adorable vintage outfit every day on her way to work in an agency where computers are eschewed in favor of manual typewriters. Not much happens, plot-wise, except for Joanna's continued dismay that she must type the exact same form letter to Salinger's eager fans. His fans from all backgrounds and ages narrate their letters as Joanna reads them, making her aware of how transformative his books are, even decades later. The highlight of her time at the agency is when "Jerry" calls for Margaret and chats briefly with her. The conversations are short, and sometimes Salinger can't even remember her name, but she cherishes the brief moments of writerly advice from a genuine member of the Western canon.
Weaver is entertaining as the exacting Margaret, who knows precisely how she'd like everything done. She isn't quite as deliciously mean as Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, but Margaret is still coolly aloof -- a mysterious power player who represents one of the biggest names in 20th century literature. Despite being a secondary character, Margaret has hidden depths that are revealed throughout the story. Booth, however, isn't well cast. His New York accent is distractingly off, and anyone familiar with the actor knows that he's far too polished to authentically play a bearded hipster who's obsessed with writing his own Infinite Jest. The moment when Joanna finally reads Don's manuscript is particularly effective, as she realizes he's every bit the pompous lit bro she had feared. Salinger is never fully shown in the movie, and while that could seem coy, it's actually clever. Audiences just hear his voice, deep and loud and telling Joanna to write every day.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the depiction of the literary world in My Salinger Year. What do you think about the way a "legendary" author like Salinger refuses to be interviewed or receive fan mail?
Does the movie make you interested in reading My Salinger Year or J.D. Salinger's work -- most notably, Catcher in the Rye?
Do you think authors have a responsibility to their readers? Should they correspond with them, or is the author's work done with the book? If you could get in touch with one author, who would it be?
How are sex and sexuality depicted in the movie? Are any particular values imparted?
Did you notice empathy, courage, and perseverance in the story? Why are those important character strengths?
- In theaters: March 5, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: March 5, 2021
- Cast: Margaret Qualley, Sigourney Weaver, Douglas Booth
- Director: Philippe Falardeau
- Studio: IFC
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Courage, Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some sexual references
- Last updated: January 2, 2023
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