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My Salinger Year

Based on the book by Joanna Rakoff

While working for literary agent Phyllis Westberg, aspiring writer Joanna Rakoff receives personal advice from reclusive author J.D. Salinger.

"There’s an undeniable romance to mid-Nineties New York. Absent of the chirp of mobile phones, or the swirl of social media, it comes across as a more halcyon age, closer to the Forties than the Noughties. It makes the perfect setting for Berlin International Film Festival opener My Salinger Year, Philippe Falardeau’s gentle adaptation of Joanna Rakoff’s elegant and much-loved memoir detailing her fledgling career at a Manhattan literary agency.

At just 23 and fresh out of college, Joanna (Margaret Qualley) has moved in with her new beau, Don (Douglas Booth), an armchair socialist who likes to swing his opinions about and dreams of becoming a novelist. Joanna has similar literary ambitions, but also possesses the nous to realise she has to make rent and eat.

She takes a job as an assistant at an anachronistic literary agency (in real life it was Harold Ober Associates), that still uses tape Dictaphones and Selectric typewriters. On her first day, her austere boss Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) takes Joanna into her office and says, “We need to talk about Jerry”. The Jerry in question happens to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century – J.D. Salinger.

Consequently, along with more menial tasks, Joanna’s days are spent replying with a standard "thank you and goodbye" to ardent fans, whose missives range from the banal to the deranged. But the letters start to get under her skin, and she becomes puzzled at the willingness of the authors to bare their souls to a stranger, even if it is Salinger. EM Forster’s "only connect" couldn’t be more pertinent. Falardeau’s conceit is to have these letters acted out, a smart, if under used approached.

But the Salinger side of the story isn’t the real heart of the tale. Joanna is insecure about who she is, who she wants to become, and how she’s going to be able to stand on her own feet. Qualley, who most recently starred in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, captures the familiar sense of self-doubt that comes with youth, and does it with effortless charm. Weaver meanwhile lends a steely charm, reminiscent of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, as a woman who sees the world she loves shifting under her feet, going from a culture that loves writing to a business that’s all about figures.

My Salinger Year is a familiar tale of someone going out into the world and trying to make it. But it’s also a tale full of charm and intelligence, deftly capturing a world that has sadly vanished."

(Source: Joseph Walsh, The Arts Desk)

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Directed by: 
Philippe Falardeau
Running Time: 
101 minutes
Canada, Ireland
Margaret Qualley
Sigourney Weaver
Douglas Booth
Colm Feore
Screenplay by: 
Philippe Falardeau
Based on the book by Joanna Rakoff

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