Published on November 4th, 2013 | by Mike Conlon0
Putting out a watchable documentary about the author of The Catcher in the Rye, J.D Salinger, is no small order. There isn’t much footage of the man, and he gave only a handful of interviews in his life. Yet, even accounting for the unique challenges of this project, filmmaker Shane Salerno has royally dropped the ball with Salinger. In fact, it’s possibly the worst documentary I’ve ever seen. I’m glad Salinger isn’t alive to see it, as it wouldn’t be easy to watch your life story so ineptly handled.
Salinger opens with a photographer’s account of hiding out in the bushes outside a post office, waiting to get a shot of the reclusive writer. Great way to kick off a documentary about one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century. The audience is later subjected to a middle aged man’s account of randomly showing up at Salinger’s house and harassing him. The documentary casts no judgment on either the photographer or the oddball. It can’t. It too is taking the piss out of a person who wanted nothing more than to be left alone.
The documentary spends a lot of time exploring Salinger’s attraction to beautiful young women. Go figure, a man who enjoyed the company of attractive young women. Two of Salinger’s flings, Jean Miller and Joyce Maynard, talk crap about him throughout the film. Inexplicably, Salerno has Maynard tell the same story about Salinger in two different locations wearing two different outfits, and then cuts between the two versions. This is what you do when you want to make a very uninteresting story seem somewhat interesting.
The score in the film is ridiculously over the top. It’d be more suited to a cheesy 80s thriller. When Salerno pairs this overwrought scoring with reenactments of Salinger writing The Catcher in the Rye the groan factor is off the charts. Also, for no apparent reason beyond their fame, celebrities like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Martin Sheen, and Judd Apatow weigh in on Salinger throughout the documentary. In a movie riddled with elements that don’t really add up, this is just another misfire.
Salinger is a documentary for people who don’t like Salinger. It doesn’t explore his literary significance on any significant level, and instead focuses its attentions on the author’s tumultuous private life. The movie is so incompetent on every level that it’s compelling in its awfulness. In this way, it vaguely evokes Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, which is an accomplishment of sorts, I suppose.