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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
One theme/take-away of the movie is that persistence pays off when combined with talent and hard work.
Positive Role Models
J.D. Salinger was undoubtedly determined to write and, at least according to the documentary, he wrote for the act of writing itself, not for money or glory.
Violence & Scariness
Graphic, possibly disturbing footage of battles fought during World War II, some brutal and bloody. Some scenes include footage shot during the liberation of Nazi camps; the charred remains of prisoners burned alive are shown, as well as heaps of dead bodies.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Nothing graphic is shown, but there's plenty of discussion about Salinger's romances and flirtations with very young women, one as young as 14.
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One use of "goddamn."
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Products & Purchases
Signage and labels are seen or mentioned, but in a historical context (Pinto, BMW, Bonwit Teller, Coca-Cola, New Yorker, Collier, Time, Cosmopolitan).
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Talk of drinking; smoking is shown (accurate for Salinger's era).
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this documentary about elusive, mysterious writer J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye) covers some parts of his life -- mainly his wartime experiences and his dalliances and marriages -- that may be too mature or intense for tweens and younger. Some historical footage filmed during the liberation of the Nazis' concentration camps includes shots of charred, piled-up bodies; there's also some frank discussion about the author's attraction to very young women (including teens). There's talk of drinking and some era-accurate smoking. Note: Additional footage was added to the film after our review was published; that footage has not been reviewed by our staff. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
There's no argument that J.D. Salinger is a fascinating, complex subject for a documentary. Any details about the elusive, reclusive writer of a book that has appealed to generations of teen and adult readers have always been a big coup. And on that front, director Shane Salerno delivers, offering interviews with members of Salinger's inner circle (many ultimately booted from it for perceived slights), who fill in the many blanks that have arisen since Catcher became a bestseller and he disappeared from public view. We learn about his indefatigable attempts to write and the brutal wartime experiences that may have shaped his world view. (It's compelling material, effectively enhanced by news footage from the war.) We hear from the women he loved -- almost every one of them much younger than Salinger when they met or got together -- who describe relationships that were caring, confusing, and crushing. (He met one of them -- who may have inspired the character of Esme in the writer's famous story "For Esmé -- with Love and Squalor" -- when she was 14 and unceremoniously dumped her years later, after taking her virginity.) And then there's the big reveal about more books that will purportedly be published starting in 2015.
If only Salerno, who has written many blockbusters himself, approached his material with a steady and light touch. But the soundtrack blares, pushing viewers to FEEL during key moments. Segments in which an actor, ostensibly playing Salinger, appears on a stage (with footage and pictures from Salinger's life projected on a screen behind him) or is filmed toiling up a hill that we are meant to believe is in Cornish, cheapen the experience. Better to have let the material speak for itself and to allow the gaps in what we know about Salinger to come to a crescendo, underlining what made him so maddening, so mysterious in the first place.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.