As “My Salinger Year” proves, making a successful movie about introspection is more than a little challenging. Muted almost to the point of effacement, this limp adaptation of Joanna Rakoff’s 2014 memoir, written and directed by Philip Falardeau, only affirms that what might work on the page doesn’t always pop on the screen.
Indeed, the story of Joanna (Margaret Qualley), a bookish former grad student finding her feet in New York City in the 1990s, is so drearily uneventful that you begin to wonder why it was ever deemed filmable. A sprouting poet, Joanna takes a job as assistant to a rigidly old-fashioned literary agent (Sigourney Weaver) whose client list favors authors as creaky as the typewriters and Dictaphones that power her office.
Assigned to deal with the effusive fan mail of the agency’s most famous client, the reclusive J.D. Salinger, Joanna, vexed by the dusty form letter she’s been instructed to use, is moved to flout the rules and personalize her responses. Imagining the fans speaking directly to her, she spends most days inside her head, narrating her thoughts while the plot trudges forward. In the evenings, she returns to a low-rent apartment in ungentrified Brooklyn where her narcissistic boyfriend (Douglas Booth) works on his novel and disparages her job.
Unable to draw a connection between Joanna’s aimless personal life and her epistolary fancies, “My Salinger Year” never convinces us that she can write, or even that she particularly cares to. Wide-eyed and ingenuous, the character is a blank slate.
“I wanted to be extraordinary,” she tells us at the beginning of a movie that persuades us of nothing except her extraordinary immaturity.
My Salinger Year
Rated R for sexual references as bland as the movie around them. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Google Play, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.