It is not easy to capture a writer’s creative process in a movie, especially when the artist was determined to stay out of the public eye. Danny Strong took on that task in his Rebel in the Rye, the story of J. D. Salinger’s coming of age as a writer, culminating in the publication of Catcher in the Rye, and the protagonist Holden Caulfield’s curious effect on readers. As the film illustrates, fans stalked Salinger, wearing Caulfield’s red hunting hat and proclaiming in so many words, Holden Caulfield, c’est moi.
A first time director, Danny Strong, well known as an actor and screenwriter (The Butler, The Hunger Games, among his many credits), based the work on Kenneth Slawenski’s critical biography, and was challenged to complete shooting in 26 days, he told me at the movie’s premiere at Metrograph this week.
Nicholas Hoult is charismatic and tortured as Salinger; Zoey Deutch as Eugene O’Neill’s daughter Oona, with whom he had a brief courtship plays coquette to perfection. Kevin Spacey as Salinger’s mentor, Sarah Paulson as his agent, and Brian d’Arcy James as editor Robert Giroux provide a fascinating if stylized glimpse into the book business. To prepare for his role, James interviewed writers and editors who knew Giroux, he said of his research.
Also on hand for the premiere: Gay Talese, Paul Haggis, Oren Moverman, Kristen Stewart, Barry Levinson. In this artsy crowd, one woman stood out: Jean Shafiroff, co-host of the event with IFC, in a one of a kind Oscar de la Renta adorned with lace and ruffles. She sometimes does cultural events, this socialite and philanthropist, told me. “I am fortunate to be able to give back. Besides, I love the book.”