Salinger won't be accused of perfectionism
A documentary by Shane Salerno. Rated PG.
As someone points out in this documentary about the famously reclusive writer of The Catcher in the Rye, you must be extremely driven to achieve the level of agonized perfection that marked most of the late author’s published output. Perfectionism is not something of which the makers of Salinger will ever be accused.
To put it kindly, the film is a watchable botch—a slapdash collection of clips, stock footage, interviews with people on the periphery of Salinger’s life (including acting luminaries such as Martin Sheen, John Cusack, and Philip Seymour Hoffman), and staged “re-creations” that do little but take up space in a movie that’s well over two hours long.
Actually, I’m not sure if this is a movie at all or a kind of bloated electronic press kit for the book of the same name, written by director Shane Salerno (known for such literary ventures as the recent film and TV reboots of Shaft and Hawaii Five-0) with David Shields. That book is itself a repository for the same data points and is more interested in its subject as a symbol of 20th-century values, and traumas, than as a purveyor of prose.
With little original research on offer, Salerno sticks to the Psych 101 reduction of what followed Salinger’s harrowing experience of war, which began on D-Day and ended with the liberation of Dachau. The filmmakers are, understandably, more sympathetic to his PTSD than to his predilection for latching onto much younger females. But the tone is even more dismayingly sensational when it comes to the dubious role of Catcher in the lives of late-century assassins, and it is raised without insight.
Elsewhere, the film sheds a little light on Salinger’s conflicted dance with fame and, seemingly, applauds him for eschewing Hollywood after one bad experience. But it slathers on shock cuts, badly staged interpretive sequences, and stridently obvious soundtrack music, all big, fat phony devices we know he’d be offended by—if we’ve been reading Holden Caulfield right all along.