April 22, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘My Salinger Year’ review: Margaret Qualley in winning performance

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

“My Salinger Year” is a lovely, captivating film based on the memoir by Joanna Rakoff about her brief time working at the venerable Madison Avenue literary agency that represented iconic author J.D. Salinger.

Margaret Qualley (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” TV’s “Fosse/Verdon”) plays the endearingly driven Rakoff circa 1995 as she leaves graduate school — and her boyfriend — and moves east to the Big Apple (Montreal effectively doubles here) to become a writer, inspired by having sold two poems to the Paris Review.

The financial realities of living in pricey New York leads Joanna to find a job as the assistant to old school lit agent Margaret (Sigourney Weaver), a brusque, humorless sort who consigns her new hire to such mundane tasks as typing dictation and answering Salinger’s passionate fan mail with dismissive form letters.

Needless to say, Joanna has greater aspirations and, although she’s strangely never read “The Catcher in the Rye,” forms a kinship with both Salinger (during brief chats when “Jerry” calls in for Margaret) and his adoring admirers who, like Joanna, just want to be heard. Her empathy for the author’s fans (who are portrayed in fanciful cutaways and fantasy bits) leads Joanna to take matters into her own naive hands, to amusing and unpredictable effect.

She also starts dating and sharing a dumpy Brooklyn apartment with the more bohemian, self-centered Don (Douglas Booth), a fledgling novelist whose rakish appeal screams expiration date.

Joanna’s journey of creative and emotional enlightenment — including the balancing act of trying to write when consumed by a day job — is managed with grace, tenderness and touching credibility by a wonderfully winning Qualley in concert with Philippe Falardeau’s smart, engaging direction and screenplay.

Weaver masterfully insures that her formidable, technology-resistant Margaret never edges into monster territory. This serves her especially well as her character slowly deepens and reveals a more humane side.

Brian F. O’Byrne, Yanic Truesdale, Colm Feore, Seána Kerslake and Hamza Haq are also fine in supporting roles, with Tim Post playfully voicing the elusive Salinger and appearing on screen in a few well-placed flashes.

‘My Salinger Year’

Rated: R, for language and some sexual references

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: Available March 5 on digital and VOD; and in general release where theaters are open; Cinelounge Drive-in, Hollywood, March 10 only