Dave White
Salinger Review

Dave's Rating:

2.0

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You could see Salinger. Or you could just read his books and be content with that. But if you do that, if first you sit and enjoy the pleasurable, life-bolstering work of reading his limited published output and afterwards still feel the need for a biographical sketch you can digest in two hours, one that acts less like a documentary and more like the commercial for itself that it truly is (did you ever think that a film about a beloved American author would have anything in common with One Direction: This Is Us?), then I first recommend sitting down and reading more, specifically Lisa Birnbach's The Official Preppy Handbook and Cintra Wilson's A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-examined As A Grotesque Crippling Disease.

Birnbach's 1980 book is an amusing and specific field guide to a kind of privileged and discreet way of life that has nothing to do with the kind of vulgar Real Housewives-style wealth currently capturing the have-not-as-much imagination. These are the rich people who could afford to be on Million Dollar Listing who would recoil at the thought of being on Million Dollar Listing. Salinger came from that kind of unshowy money, was kicked out of private school and didn't care about being rich. When he became a literary star after the publication of The Catcher In The Rye, Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories and Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour, an Introduction, he decided he didn't care much for fame, either. He eventually retreated to a small town in New Hampshire and refused to publish, writing only for its own sake the entire time. In other words, dude was the ultimate preppy.

Wilson's wickedly funny book of essays, one that brutally eviscerates the idea of celebrity "specialness," is a warning against films like Salinger, an overworked piece of idol-worship that simultaneously reveres the man for walking away from the extremely loud world of fame into a quieter -- and obsessive, if the talking heads here are correct -- artist's existence and posthumously chastises him for not giving more to the fans, at least one of whom is inexplicably rewarded with screen time to worry aloud forever about how rude the author was to him once successfully stalked and cornered.

Organized like a cheap reality show that excitedly rips the lid off of the mysteries of ancient alien civilizations, padded with hilariously embarrassing re-enactments (Salinger is writing on a stage, so frustrated with all the phonies! Salinger is meeting with literary agents, so frustrated with rejection! Salinger walks in the woods and carries a log, so frustrated with logs!) and heightened into a fake-suspense frenzy with a histrionic score, it's a movie that tells you very little a decently-written biography couldn't (and already has, for that matter). He carried pages of Catcher with him while stationed in Europe during World War II; the war traumatized him; he had trouble with women (lots of them, young ones) and wives (a few) and his own children; and all of it became part of his writing, a truly American post-war account of living with anxiety. "His work was ordained by God," says one commentator, and that might be true, but the film mistakes Salinger for that deity. He's the white whale, the greatest American writer of the 20th century or maybe just a man who wrote some middlebrow, mass appeal best-sellers, he's the key to understanding why John Lennon was murdered, he's a deadbeat dad and a good reason to write a tell-all about the years you spent as his romantic protege.

But most of all he's the ultimate spoiler, as the movie delivers its money shots announcing the publication of never-before-seen material, explaining their plots and confidently assuring the viewer that they'll be publishing sensations of serious, historic, literary importance. PRE-ORDER NOW ON AMAZON! GO GO GO! BIOPIC STARRING JOHNNY DEPP AND A PROSTHETIC NOSE COMING IN 2016! AAAAAUUUUUGGHHHHH!

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