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Parents' Guide to


By S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Fascinating but heavy-handed docu has some intense scenes.

Movie PG-13 2013 120 minutes
Salinger Poster Image

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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.

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