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Rebel in the Rye Movie Review

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Sometimes a movie comes up that I know absolutely nothing about. I didn’t even know Rebel in the Rye was being released this weekend until I had the chance to see it, but I figured I’d give it a look. I’m not a J.D. Salinger super-fan or anything, but I was intrigued by his story. On top of being a great writer, he was a unique personality, so seeing him brought to life piqued my interest. Let’s talk about the movie!

Rebel in the Rye is directed by Danny Strong and stars Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Sarah Paulson, and Zoey Deutch. The film covers the life of acclaimed, yet controversial, writer J.D. Salinger, played by Nicholas Hoult. Though it covers his beginning, personal life, and professional life, the story guides us through the creative process of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye as well as the creation of its protagonist Holden Caulfield.

I will say that after watching this film, I feel like I understand J.D. Salinger more than I did prior to Rebel in the Rye. If the movie’s goal was to educate, then goal achieved. I understand how the non-fiction story of Slinger’s life fits into the fictional stories he writes. His personality is reflected, and the voice that Nicholas Hoult has given him seems to come through in the writing. I actually found him to be a very interesting character early on in the film, and I bought Hoult as this overly confident writer. I think he brought a great personality and humanity to the role that makes a character like this stand out. In the first act, Salinger is sitting in a writing class with many other writers and his eventual personal mentor. It’s not news to say that writing isn’t the most sure-fire, practical job, but if any person in that room of writers was going to be successful, I buy into the idea that Salinger would be the one.

Though I think that Salinger as a person is fascinating, I didn’t find this movie very effective. For a movie that talks about voice so often, it never seems to find its own. It’s a relatively standard, shallow biopic that never goes into layers further than how great of a personality Salinger had. I never felt any passion or tension in his relationships, and I never felt like we went to the level a theatrical biopic could go to. This felt like a made-for-television movie, and all of the relationships and deeper meanings to Salinger’s art were tv-thin. There’s also never a real struggle for Salinger. Yes, we see rejection letters roll in, but from the opening scene, just about every character in the film pats him on the back and sends him on to bigger and better things. The only times he faces internal controversy with his creative integrity, he’s allowed to decide that he’s above changing his material, and continues on patting himself on the back. My final point has to be the female characters. I’m not sure what purpose they’re trying to serve other than to make the audience feel incredibly awkward. Other than Sarah Paulson’s character of Salinger’s agent, all of the female roles are thin as paper. Zoey Deutch, who I’m typically a fan of, really fell flat for me. I think a lot of the blame goes to the writing and the story, but she’s so flat and strange that I never bought into any of her scenes. Lucy Boynton, who I’ve loved in everything I’ve seen her in, was so odd, and she spent all of her scenes in the film pandering to Salinger. I don’t want to give off bad signals about her performance because it’s as good as the story is going to allow, but her character is so terribly written and feels like she’s crowding the narrative.

Overall, Rebel in the Rye probably deserved much better all-around. It deserved a much better story that delved deeper into the layers and complexities of its main character, and it deserved something to draw my interest and make the story feel necessary for this cultural phenomenon. Nicholas Hoult manages the role extremely well, but the constant pandering to his character and lack of difficulty made it tough for me to grab onto the nuances of this extraordinary writer. It’s definitely not the worst movie of the year, but there’s no way I’m going to remember watching this one in a week or so. I’m going to give Rebel in the Rye a 3.5/10.

Will you be checking out Rebel in the Rye? Comment down in the comment section and let me know! As always, thank you, and keep listening to 88.7 The Pulse!

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Justin Lyons

Hey, it's Justin Lyons! I am the Chief Film Critic for The Pulse. Have any questions for me? Please feel free to email me at movies@pulseradio.fm