The Weinstein Company's buzzy documentary about J.D. Salinger—titled, well, Salinger—was added last minute to the slate of films being screened tonight at Toronto International Film Festival, which opens today. But it comes to Toronto after some wildly mixed responses from people who saw it screen at the Telluride Film Festival this past Monday.
The film was being sold by the Weinstein crew as a revolutionary piece of work, which featured a surprise akin to that in The Crying Game. Alas, the movie's big reveal was spoiled when The New York Times and the Associated Press reported that the movie and a tie-in biography claim that five more Salinger works will be published starting in 2015.
So, knowing the big spoiler, do you need to see the movie? Is it, you know, any good? Even in reviews that weren't pans it's evident that this is a film that uses overbearing music and other devices to try to turn its quiet literary subject into a loud Hollywood blockbuster. It's something that Salinger himself wouldn't have liked very much. Let's break the reactions down.
Sasha Stone, Awards Daily: "Salinger is a complex portrait of a beloved author that might sometimes seem exploitative. But it is nonetheless the truth as told by people whom Salinger used up and then discarded. It is also the truth about how genius doesn’t always come in a perfect package."
Eric Kohn, Indiewire: "But even if the documentary's climactic revelation amounts to a commercial plug, it's an unquestionably enthralling one, as Salerno's two hour-plus account of Salinger's complexities covers virtually every aspect of his life story."
Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter: "And although it is overlong, it manages to be fascinating for much of its running time. But it also disappoints on many counts, providing another example of hype outpacing actual achievement -- a syndrome that Salinger himself would probably have deplored."
Andrew Barker, Variety: "There are moments when the film veers dangerously close to the sort of hyper-literal approach with which VH1’s Behind the Music series tackled the tales of Motley Crue and Def Leppard — the sentence 'he stormed out the door' is accompanied by a cutaway to a slamming door, for example — and this is surely the first literary bio to include a Coldplay song and 'South Park' clips over the end credits."
Nathan Rabin, The Dissolve: "For a film with a literary pedigree, Salinger feels cheap and vulgar: It’s a documentary about a writer’s life apparently intended for people who don’t read books or watch documentaries. Saying the film provides a Cliffs Notes version of Salinger’s career would give it too much credit. It’s more like a cinematic flipbook that combines pretty, familiar images with achingly sentimental music. It is everything the Salinger of his books was not: predictable, cliched, banal, and worst of all, phony."
Jordan Hoffman, New York Daily News: "Director Shane Salerno, a TV veteran and screenwriter (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Shaft), and producer Harvey Weinstein have done the one thing that would have infuriated the Catcher in the Rye author the most: put out an undeniably nosy film."