Film Review: “My Salinger Year” (2020)

Sigourney Weaver as Margaret and Margaret Qualley as Joanna in MY SALINGER YEAR. Photo by: micro_scope. Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We all, at some point in our lives, think of communicating with our favorite writer. Now just imagine you receive a letter from him or her; it will lift your spirit as if you have grown wings. It is helpful because we can learn a valuable lesson and begin doing something we may not otherwise.

Based on the memoir of Joanna Rakoff, “My Salinger Year”, and set in 1995, the film follows Joanna (Margaret Qualley) who begins working for one of New York’s oldest literary agencies, run by Margaret (Sigourney Weaver). As a primary duty, she must send a generic response to fan letters sent to J.D. Salinger, the author of “The Catcher in the Rye”. As she reads one letter after another, the young woman changes the agency’s rules by changing the context of the letter to make it more real. As she does it, she finds in herself the courage to begin something of her own…

Joanna is an aspiring writer and poet herself who moves to New York City. As she moves into a new apartment with her boyfriend, Don (Douglas Booth), you can feel they are too generic. Don is a novelist too who seems to be much more content and disciplined when it comes to writing, while Joanna is still in search of her own voice. When she passes her job interview with Margaret, it would appear in the beginning that Joanna may have trouble with her new boss. However, Margaret destroys that assumption when she begins caring for Joanna by giving her more room for creativity.

As for one of the main protagonists, J.D. Salinger, Joanna confesses that she’s never read any of his books. But when she begins reading all the fan letters, she gets a therapeutic treatment from some of them. Despite her being so into her job, Joanna wants to write her own novel too and seems more upset seeing that Don is achieving his goal faster than her. Make no mistake, it’s not jealousy but rather a sharp realization that she must not let circumstances take away her biggest dream from her. But when she receives a call from J.D. Salinger, and the advise he gives her, Joanna is determined to apply it into practice.

Written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, “My Salinger Year” is a surprisingly easy-going and inspiring drama with a genuine heart. If you are a writer and looking for inspiration, then you should certainly check it out. Some part of the plot is not open completely and leaves more questions than answers. But don’t let it to discourage you as it won’t be as important as some may think. For instance, we know that Joanna had a boyfriend whom she broke up with before the start of the film and even meets him afterwards. That detail may not be super important for the whole film, but for character development, it had to be in it.

Besides being a pleasant piece, the film overall delivers an interesting point. We must not look for excuses to do the things we want. As for writers, every day you should spend at least fifteen minutes to write, as it’s important to build the right foundation for the book that might be written in the near future. We are all occupied with something, so is Joanna. But what her journey teaches is that all that won’t matter as there are twenty-four hours in a day, and a quarter of an hour may look small, but with the right approach, you will feel it makes a huge difference.

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