Tropic Sprockets / My Salinger Year
By Ian Brockway
Directed by Phillipe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar) and based on the memoir of the same name by Joanna Rakoff, is a light coming of age drama that remains engaging thanks to its cast headed by Margaret Qualley and Sigourney Weaver.
Joanna (Qualley) is a passionate self-deprecating MA Literature graduate with dreams of supporting herself through writing. She is transfixed by New York City and vows to make a name for herself as a writer. Joanna tells her West Coast boyfriend by phone of her move to New York, all but breaking up with him. In the city, she has an interview with a legendary literary agency (based on Harold Ober Associates) headed by a glib and somewhat icy woman Margaret (Weaver), clearly reminiscent of the boss in “The Devil Wears Prada”.
Joanna is unassuming enough to convince Margaret of her skills and she secures the job as an assistant with the sole task of handling the iconic “Jerry” Salinger’s fan mail and requests. Joanna is less than thrilled but she is not in a position to refuse.
At an arty bookstore she meets the scruffy bohemian Don (Douglas Booth) who champions poetry and novels as creative expressions devoid of commercial concerns. Joanna is not in love but she is attracted to Don’s offhand casual manner and the two rent a dark apartment together.
Joanna likes working at the office yet she often feels like a servant taken for granted by the curt diva, Margaret. She tosses and turns, tormented, yearning for enough impetus to write her own work.
One day while reading a letter, Joanna is enthralled by the affecting and existential words of a troubled young boy who is obsessed by Salinger. The boy composes letter after letter with increasing intensity. The boy (Théodore Pellerin) takes physical shape in Joanna’s mind, becoming a sounding board or a double for her own doubts as an artist. These fugues recall the visions of Bogart in “Play it Again, Sam,” but in their melancholy the appearances have more in common with Bud Cort in “Harold and Maude.”
Margaret warms to Joanna but drama ensues when the young assistant writes an unauthorized response to an upset high school fan of Salinger who has hopes of securing an exemplary grade.
While much of the film feels inspired by the aforementioned “The Devil Wears Prada” there is still tangible tension here between Margaret Qualley and the iconic Sigourney Weaver. These are real characters with bounce, even though the narrative feels formulaic. There are also compelling concepts given that the film takes place in 1996. What does it mean to publish books electronically? Does technology make the physicality of books less sacred or more so? These questions are touched upon and one wishes they were more thoroughly explored.
A highlight in the film is the mythic appearance of Judy Blume as a client of the agency, well impersonated by Gillian Doria who highlights her spritely charm and serious intent.
The figure of Salinger appears too, albeit only in profile or Hitchcock-like from a distance. While at first this might feel gimmicky, it is not, providing some pensive mystery, which is echoed in the sighting of Judy Blume.
In this film, authors are magic creatures full of something supernatural in their essence, majestic and strange.
The performances in “My Salinger Year” are authentic and spirited throughout despite a Cinderella-like finale that may have you shaking your head.
Write Ian at email@example.com