No one is quite sure how J.D. Salinger, the reclusive writer of the young adult novel "The Catcher in the Rye," became such a mythical, mysterious figure in contemporary American literature. Writer/director Shane Salerno interviewed 150 people, including Salinger's family and friends, few of
whom shed much light on that subject.
It seems that after lovelorn young Jerry Salinger lost Eugene O'Neill's beautiful daughter Oona to much older Charlie Chaplin, he was forever obsessed with young, innocent girls. Jean Miller, who inspired his story "For Esme -- With Love and Squalor," was one of them. Back in the 1940s, Salinger met her on a beach in Florida when she was just 14 years old and told her mother that he planned to marry her. Five years later, their sexual union was finally consummated, causing Salinger to immediately lose all interest in her. Salinger started courting Joyce Maynard when she was an 18-year-old Yale student; they lived together in the 1970s and she later wrote a book about their relationship.
There's also a repetitive archival footage that chronicles Salinger's Army career during World War II, his obsession with being published in The New Yorker and his determination never to have his stories made into motion pictures. This self-indulgent, overly long documentary is designed to accompany the recently published oral history, also titled "Salinger," by Shane Salerno and David Shields which, in turn, owes a great deal to Paul Alexander's biography.
Celebrity after celebrity -- including Paul Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, E.L. Doctorow, A.E. Hotchner, John Guare and others -- comment on the profound influence of Salinger's Holden Caulfield. It's obvious that J.D. Salinger, who wrote in solitude in Cornish, N.H., was determined to have his famous novel and 35 other short stories speak for themselves. He died in 2010 at age 91, after directing that his unpublished manuscripts be issued posthumously between 2015 and 2020.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Salinger" is an infuriating, fatuous 5, a shallow, superficial examination of a multi-layered, enigmatic author.