My Salinger Year is a gently romantic, old-fashioned love letter to literature and those irrevocably shaped by it.
Philippe Falardeau’s My Salinger Year is the film adaptation of Joanna Rakoff’s memoir of the same name, depicting the author’s year spent working for the literary agency that represented author J.D. Salinger in the late 1990s. After hiding her literary ambitions, Joanna (Margaret Qualley) is recruited as a clerical assistant to Margaret (Sigourney Weaver), abandoning her college sweetheart in favor of a new, bohemian lover, Don (Douglas Booth) and committing to her New York dreams. Under the benevolent shadow of Salinger and his legions of adoring fans, whose every letter is read (and promptly shredded) by Joanna, she reckons with not only her sense of self, but also her craft and identity as a writer.
Much like every element of the film, Joanna and the people she surrounds herself with are beautiful relics, people who feel so uniquely of a time and place that it’s hard to imagine them existing anywhere else. Whether it’s Joanna nonchalantly dropping out of college with the vague promise of a job that nowadays would be fought for, tooth-and-nail, or Don’s blissful ignorance of every cliché he so blithely stumbles into, the world of My Salinger Year simply does not exist anymore, lost to self-awareness and the internet era’s distinct brand of cynicism. Qualley, Weaver, and Booth uniformly reject such cynicism, taking archetypes of the literary world (the wide-eyed ingénue, the shrewd agent who takes no prisoners, and the self-indulgent, self-interested male writer), and embodying them with sincere empathy, despite the alternative perhaps being a far easier strategy. Instead of following in the footsteps of obvious predecessors, such as The Devil Wears Prada, My Salinger Year reflects on its characters kindly, and in doing so, offers a rose-tinted worldview that is likely to charm as many viewers as it bores.
The unique cocktail of casually opulent hotel lobbies and earth-toned offices that Qualley floats through harkens back to a bygone era, just as the film’s characters cling to it and try to stop it from drifting away. The world of My Salinger Year is one preserved perfectly in amber, with comforting earthy tones and a permanent autumnal feel permeating the New York spaces where Joanna spends much of her time. In tandem with the gentle romance of Martin Léon’s score, which makes the film feel positively buoyant, director Philippe Falardeau has here fashioned a love letter to both literature and to those who are so earnestly shaped by it.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | March 2021.