Pretty Face, Poor Story: Rebel in the Rye

Though handsome, witty and sarcastic, J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) seems to share the same original pain and suffering that every great writer has to overcome before they can dip their parched tongues in the sweetness of success, yet soon to discover that it can become maddening. Director Danny Strong (Empire) brings to life the horrors, traumas, and struggles that Salinger must defeat as he learns to cope with the harsh world around him. Rebel in the Rye is in a hurry to push through the opening scenes- a voice-over narration of Salinger’s internal thoughts, and the battle with a disapproving father. When announced that he would rather attend a course on professional creative writing than employing himself somewhere else, it creates an inevitable tension and a poorly executed father figure. The plot of the film flickers back and forth to Salinger’s institutionalized point of view that describes each event as he recoups from the repercussions of World War II. As Salinger attends Columbia University, professor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey) takes fondly to Salinger’s narcissistic charm. He promptly begins to mentor him, teaching him valuable lessons in rejection to his wide-eyed student. As attempts to publish are either rejected or accepted by different publishers, Burnett watches Salinger flourish as a writer. The film seems to be in a  rush to slow down and meet tragedy as Salinger fails not one, but three relationships through his unaddressed anger and alcoholism. Though mentioned multiple times, it isn’t a conflict that Salinger is half-Jewish, and is drafted soon where he serves in Germany. Burnett is insistent that his protegee brings the short stories of Holden Caulfield to reach the length of a novel, but his student is stubborn to agree. In turn, he promises to keep Cauldfield alive through him. It’s made too obvious that Catcher in the Rye is based on Salinger’s life experiences. After a falling out with his former teacher, he turns to Hinduism and meditation as a key for relief. How? The scenario is quite uncomfortable to watch. As Salinger fends against rage-fuelled flashbacks, he notes a curious group of Hindus that have circled among themselves. Dark brows furrow and stretched eyes narrow a bit too forcefully as there is no context to his compulsion to join. Yet it works inexplicably. Rebel drags on and remains more challenging to keep an audience attentive as it revolves around Salinger returning to a dryly-receptive family after his time in combat, and his desire for isolation. The dialog becomes curter as Catcher booms with success. After encounters with dramatized crazed fanatics in dark streets, he decides that his time as a published author has come to its brief conclusion. The film is centered on another pretty face around a typewriter. Rebel in the Rye is nothing shy of being repetitive and basic and relates to The Imitation Game or I Saw The Light when it comes to depressing biopics that fade out into the white script.  With too long of a running time, the potential biography only tells the same story of a misunderstood writer, that becomes boring and hard to watch.


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