Not much to say. I didn’t know this movie was getting made and I don’t know who J.D. Salinger is. Should prove to be educational.
Ah… and so it is. So the title wasn’t weirdly named similarly to the novel The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger is the author of that book. Boy, the things you never paid attention to in school. This story is about the life of Salinger, a student and an aspiring writer who also fought in World War II. He has parents who don’t think his writing is useful, but he has a tough-but-awesome teacher who believes he could be great. Seems like a standard kind of “artist in the making” film now that I’m saying it out loud, but it’s about a writer, and there’s something that I can relate to.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Nicholas Hoult (COLLIDE , EQUALS , WARM BODIES , and upcoming films X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX  and TOLKIEN, no release date announced) and Kevin Spacey (BABY DRIVER , ELVIS & NIXON , and THE USUAL SUSPECTS ). In support, we have Victor Garber (SELF/LESS , LEGALLY BLONDE , and TV show LEGENDS OF TOMORROW [2016 – ongoing]), Sarah Paulson (CAROL , SERENITY , TV show AMERICAN HORROR STORY [2011 – ongoing], and upcoming films OCEAN’S 8  and GLASS ), Zoey Deutch (BEFORE I FALL , EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! , VAMPIRE ACADEMY , and the upcoming THE DISASTER ARTIST ), Lucy Boynton (SING STREET , MISS POTTER , and the upcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS ), and Celeste Arias (THE BIG SICK  and KATE CAN’T SWIM ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Danny Strong, known for directing 3 episodes of TV show EMPIRE, but is known for writing THE HUNGER GAMES: THE MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 (2014) and 2 (2015), and THE BUTLER (2013). The composer of the score is *double take* Bear McCreary?! Dude, I love this guy! Anyway, he’s known for COLOSSAL (2017), 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016), TV show BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004 – 2009), and the upcoming HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Kramar Morgenthau, known for TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015), THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013), FRACTURE (2007), and the upcoming TV movie FAHRENHEIT 451 (2018).
Overall, I’m probably more excited that I should be. That’s what happens when you put music by Audiomachine in your trailer.
This is my honest opinion of: REBEL IN THE RYE
Set in the 1930s through the 1950s. Jerome David Salinger (Nicholas Hoult), better known as Jerry, is a lousy student and has been kicked out from more than a couple schools for his sarcastic nature. But one day, he decides that he wants to pursue writing as a career and go to school for creative writing. Though his father Sol (Victor Garber) thinks his writing won’t amount to anything, his equally sarcastic, but supportive teacher Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey) challenges Jerry to push the boundaries of his own thinking and to dig deeper, making him a better writer, especially after creating a wonderful character named Holden Caulfield, who deserves his own novel, something Jerry doesn’t think he’s ready for. But once he enters the war, Jerry pursues the prospect of writing his novel, eventually returning home. Having seen so much horror overseas, it becomes a struggle for Jerry to regain the spirit he had for writing.
What is up with critics lately? I really like this movie! Okay, it’s not perfect, but it’s a good movie.
Maybe I should get the negatives out of the way first. It’s impossible to deny how cliché this movie really is, which is something I called in my initial impressions. Structurally, it really is a standard “artist in the making” story. You have a young man who wants to be a writer. He has family that thinks it’s not a real profession and want him to get a real job. You have a teacher who is quirky and funny who pushes the boundaries of his imagination and encourages him to go through with his passions. It’s about as copy and paste as you can get. So because of this and that the movie doesn’t really do anything particularly new with its own idea, objectively speaking, it’s not a great movie.
Having said that, I still really like it and you can probably accurately call me out as bias toward it because, yes, I am also a writer. Struggling artist characters are pretty easy for me get sucked into if they’re likable and that’s where this movie does its best. Usually, I’m pretty indifferent to Nicholas Hoult. I like him as young Beast in the prequel X-Men films, but, more often than not, I haven’t really seen him in anything that totally blew me away. But this was a really great role. Whether or not this was true to Salinger’s actual personality, he’s a wise-ass, but he’s got this vehement sense of realism and can’t stand fake upscale people, despite being an upscale person himself. He’s got a load of charm about him that makes him an absolute delight to follow. Even when he goes off to war, experiences the trauma he went through, he’s still an incredibly engaging character, struggling with PTSD, and it’s really heartbreaking to watch him try and fail to write. But it’s also all the more rewarding to see him overcome his struggles and to even come back as a better writer for it. But he’s by no means a perfect person. He’s been a bad husband more than once and a pretty negligent father to his children with Claire (Lucy Boynton). But this is the story of the young man who wrote one of the great novels of all time, so it’s hard to chock him up as a bad guy. I sure don’t always agree with Salinger as a man, but as an artist, I do admire his commitment and dedication… if the movie is accurate, of course.
The other characters are also incredibly well done as well. Spacey is always reliably entertaining. He’s legitimately funny, but also poignant. There’s such passion in his voice, such gravitas that listening to him alone becomes an obsession. If there’s anyone who can get students to be interested in school and pay attention in class, it’d be this man. And what a refreshing role to see him in too! Usually, I associate Spacey with roles that make him out to be an asshole, or weird, powerful, or manipulative. When was the last time he took a role that was just a guy. Just a regular guy doing regular guy things? I weirdly love his performance in this. The other major players are oddly engaging as well. Garber as Salinger’s father is great and Paulson as his agent is really fun as well.
Look, it’s no masterpiece, I can admit that. But I can’t fathom the cynical mindsets that make this movie out to be anything less than average. Sure, if the distracting clichés are too much for you to ignore, I can see that hurting the film for you and it really does hurt the movie. But the performances are outstanding. The drama is heartfelt. There’s too much that this did right for me to completely write it off. Maybe it’s just the writer in me, but I like this movie and I recommend it. I think it’s got a pretty limited release, so it’s likely you might have to go out of your way to find it. But if you’ve got the time, check it out and see for yourself.
My honest rating for REBEL IN THE RYE: 4/5