September 24, 2020

VIFF 2020 | Margaret Qualley Catches 'My Salinger Year'

"Writers make the worst assistants."
Margaret Qualley Philippe Falardeau | Joanna Rakoff's My Salinger Year | VIFF 2020
Vancouver International Film Festival
VIFF 2020—Rising starlet Margaret Qualley leads Quebec writer/director Philippe Falardeau's faithful screen adaptation of acclaimed poet/journalist Joanna Rakoff’s understated mid-'90s literary memoir My Salinger Year. Based on Rakoff's actual experiences working as a meager assistant for notoriously reclusive author J.D. Salinger's literary agency, Falardeau never quite elevates the irresistible true story of sneaking your way into a writing career through publishing despite the promising material and cast.

The charming film often feels slight yet its premise of a wide-eyed aspiring writer who gets lost in New York City's writing circles is just as alluring as ever. Qualley as an eager but totally unsure of herself artist is on point. However, the adaptation relies too heavily on literary tropes and storytelling techniques from the page as it lacks a cinematic quality to it.

There's a brief flight of fancy with a surrealist dance sequence (shades of La La Land) near the end totally incongruous to the rest of the film. If only Falardeau had committed to taking more liberties and making the slice of (true) life happenings more fantastical contrasted with his colorful palette. It certainly could have been much quirkier.

Margaret Qualley Philippe Falardeau | Joanna Rakoff's My Salinger Year | VIFF 2020
IFC Films / Mongrel Media
Co-starring a chain-smoking Sigourney Weaver as Rakoff's high-powered boss, the eclectic supporting cast (including many Canadian character actors) and subdued but artful production design all build a scrappy sense of New Yorks's high meets low literary scene.

There's so much to like on the page about Falardeau's translation of Rakoff's My Salinger Year and it's likely because he thought to make it so literal instead of literary. This is where the film loses any steam despite a winning Qualley as Joanna by way of The Devil Wears Prada.

My Salinger Year screens virtually at the 2020 Vancouver International Film Festival online as part of the True North program and is available to stream until October 7th (in BC only).


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