My New York Year a gentle dramatic translation of Joanna Rakoff's Salinger memoir
MY NEW YORK YEAR (15, 101 mins) Drama/Romance. Margaret Qualley, Sigourney Weaver, Douglas Booth, Colm Feore, Seana Kerslake, Hamza Haq, Theodore Pellerin. Director: Philippe Falardeau.
Released: May 24
IN THE Catcher In The Rye, author JD Salinger's literary alter ego, 16-year-old nonconformist Holden Caulfield, distils the intense pleasure of reading a great book into one effusive outburst.
"You wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it," coos Holden. "That doesn't happen much though".
It happened to Joanna Rakoff in the mid-1990s when she moved to New York City and found herself working for Salinger's literary agent, taking calls from the reclusive writer and answering fan letters on his behalf.
Her first-hand experiences of a fusty, pre-digital age were distilled into the absorbing 2014 memoir My Salinger Year, which writer-director Philippe Falardeau has adapted into a handsomely bound coming-of-age drama.
With thematic similarities to The Devil Wears Prada, though none of the lacerating, acerbic wit, My New York Year remains largely faithful to the source text, affectionately evoking the city and era including a dreamy sequence in an ornate corridor of the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
Pacing is extremely gentle, occasionally verging on soporific, but the casting of Margaret Qualley and Sigourney Weaver as wide-eyed heroine and her cigarette-puffing mentor is a delight, including an unexpected hug between the two women that takes the latter by surprise.
In autumn 1995, after Joanna (Qualley) has completed an MA in English literature at University College London, she abandons her boyfriend Karl (Hamza Haq) in Berkeley to move to New York.
Crashing with good friend Jenny (Seana Kerslake), she secures a job as an assistant to old-fashioned, technology-averse literary agent Margaret (Sigourney Weaver). From the firm's wood-panelled office, Joanna is tasked with responding to a deluge of fan mail for JD Salinger with an impersonal standard letter, reproduced verbatim on a typewriter.
She is instructed to read every item of incoming mail and use her judgment to flag up correspondence of concern.
"We've been extra careful since the Mark David Chapman thing," whispers Margaret, referring to John Lennon's killer's obsession with The Catcher In The Rye.
Joanna is deeply moved by some fan letters, especially one boy from Winston-Salem (Theodore Pellerin), and she contemplates typing a personalised response in direct violation of agency protocol.
Away from the office, Joanna signs a lease for a cramped Brooklyn apartment with a socialist bookseller beau (Douglas Booth) and contemplates her gloomy emotional state.
My New York Year is comfortingly familiar, galvanised by gently effervescent on-screen rapport between the two female leads.
Booth barely registers. Tellingly, when his unsympathetic, self-absorbed boor heads out of town to attend a friend's wedding, the absence goes unnoticed.
Holden Caulfield would argue, "People never notice anything". In this instance, he's wrong.