This week’s Rebel in the Rye is one of several late-summer/early-fall movies detailing the creative processes of famous authors. in this case Nicholas Hoult plays a young J.D. Salinger during his formative years, before he eventually created the book everyone had to read in Senior English, “A Catcher In The Rye.”
The movie follows Salinger as a young man who’s just returned from serving in World War II, shaking by his experiences there. He feels the impulse, the driving need, to write something that will reflect his worldview and perspective but doesn’t know what that is. Discouraged by his parents, who view writing as a less than noble career but encouraged by a professor (Kevin Spacey) who wants him to dig deeper into his soul, Salinger eventually produces the book that would define his career.
The poster puts the floating head of Spacey behind a shot of Hoult, who’s seen looking very much the part of the rebel with his short sleeve shirt and cigarette. “Behind every masterpiece is a story” we’re told, making it clear we’re going to be watching an origin story of sorts. Typewriter-written words hover throughout the poster, establishing that we’re following a writer. The whole thing is tinged brown and orange to look like a faded photo, evoking the time period the movie is set in.
The first official trailer starts off showing a young Salinger when he’s just an aspiring writer looking to make a name for himself. He’s told to just keep writing until he gets it right but gets advice of different levels of quality from different people. We see some of the traumas and issues he deals with on the way to writing “Catcher” but even when he has someone in his corner he can’t quite get it over the finish line.
It’s clear that the struggle to create “Catcher” is the primary driving force of the story. We’re watching its origin story as much as, if not more, we’re watching Salinger’s. While it does present the movie as yet another variation on the “frustrated genius” theme, the dynamic between Hoult and Spacey is what really shines here. This may be most of Spacey’s screen time, but he clearly makes every moment count.
Online and Social
There’s not much on IFC Films’ page for the movie, just the trailer, a synopsis of the story, the poster and a cast list. Bloom Media’s page was similarly sparse, but it included a list of links to news stories about the movie.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing here that I’ve seen. There may have been some local advertising done in the limited markets the movie opened in last week, but I’m not hip to those efforts.
Media and Publicity
The first big press was a feature story in The New York Times focusing on Strong’s career as an actor, writer and now director as well as his perspective in approaching such sensitive material that’s been hard to translate to film to date. Strong also talked about taking on the story at the beginning of the movie’s production.
The premiere at Sundance in 2017 was well-received but a bit of time passed before it was picked up by IFC for release later in the year. Strong explained later how and why he went about significantly editing the movie between that Sundance premiere and its eventual release.
The campaign seems to be appealing to two groups: 1) Those who want more information about the creation of a beloved – and often controversial – touch point of American literature and 2) All writers everywhere who have struggled with the disconnect between the internal voices that drive them to create and the results of that drive, along with the reception given the end product.
It’s the story that’s the strongest appeal here. Salinger has been such an enigmatic figure that there’s always been a hunger for more background on him and how he created “Catcher.” I don’t know how much that exists in the general public anymore after the passage of so many years, but it’s something that was still around when I was reading the book and likely lives on, even if it’s mostly in creative circles. So it’s hard to know how much clamoring there might be for a new take on that story, which is part of the reason it seems to be sold as a dramatic tale of overcoming setbacks as well.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.