• February 8, 2023

A Writer’s Memoir About Her Clerical Job Becomes The Movie ‘My Salinger Year’ : NPR

A young writer gets an office job with the book agent who represents JD Salinger in My Salinger Year, a film based on the memoirs of Joanna Rakoff.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Every aspiring writer should be as lucky as Joanna Rakoff. She was able to turn the story of her first job into a memory. Now that memory has been turned into a movie. Bob Mondello has our review of “My Salinger Year”.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Joanna was only supposed to be in Manhattan for a few days this summer in the 1990s. A friend waved in Berkeley, as did graduate school, but …

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

MARGARET QUALLEY: (as Joanna) I don’t want to analyze other people’s work anymore, Karl. I want to write.

HAMZA HAQ: (as Karl) In New York.

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Yeah.

MONDELLO: Not that she had a way to feed herself. What is a little bit of poverty when you just graduated from college and are ready to take on the world?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

QUALLEY: (as Joanna) Isn’t that what aspiring writers have been doing – living in cheap apartments and writing in cafes?

MONDELLO: Romantic chatter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

QUALLEY: (as Joanna) Yeah, I know, but it’s what I wanted.

MONDELLO: So Joanna, played by Margaret Qualley, is applying for a job at a literary agency. The office looks like 1927 – dark wood paneling, no computers and a queen bee, played by Sigourney Weaver, who interrupts breaks with clouds of cigarette smoke. When Joanna tries to impress her with a college reading list that includes Flaubert, she is dismissive.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: (as Margaret) To be in this field, you have to read living writers.

MONDELLO: But she needs someone who can type, and Joanna hired and said they’ll talk about Jerry later. Only halfway out of the office on the way to meet friends does she realize who Jerry is.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

QUALLEY: (as Joanna) Guess who my boss is representing.

XIAO SUN: (as Lisa) Anne Rice.

GAVIN DREA: (as Markus) The Pope.

DOUGLAS BOOTH: (as Don) Thomas Pynchon.

QUALLEY: (as Joanna) JD Salinger.

SUN: (as Lisa) No way.

STAND: (as Don) He’s still alive?

MONDELLO: Your job is to answer his e-mails and to retype the wording originally written by Salinger himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

QUALLEY: (as Joanna) Mr. Salinger doesn’t want to receive mail from his readers. Therefore we cannot pass on your kind message to him. 1963.

BRIAN F O’BYRNE: (as Hugh) This year he stopped answering himself. You need to enter the new one exactly based on that, literally, no change.

QUALLEY: (as Joanna) So Salinger doesn’t get any of his mail.

O’BYRNE: (as Hugh) None. You shredded them.

WEAVER: (as Margaret) You should always read it, just in case.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR # 1: (as character) Just in case.

MONDELLO: In case there’s another Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon and then waited on the side of the road for the police and read Salinger’s “Catcher In The Rye.”

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR # 1: (as character) At his trial, Chapman said the big part of him was Holden Caulfield.

WEAVER: (as Margaret) And the little part of him was the devil.

QUALLEY: (as Joanna) Did Chapman write to Salinger?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR # 1: (as character) We’ll never know since we’re throwing the mail away.

MONDELLO: Writer and director Philippe Falardeau may have had too many ideas on how to liven up Rakoff’s memoir. He gives the demanding boss workplace story a devil reading Prada sentiment.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

WEAVER: (as Margaret) Wrong tabs, wrong margins, wrong proper names, really everything wrong. You can start typing again today. And here, as a bonus, is today’s dictation.

MONDELLO: And apart from work, when Joanna stretches her wings for young women in the big city while “Moon River” plays on the soundtrack, the film clearly wants to have breakfast with Brentano.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR # 2: (as character) May I get you a taxi?

QUALLEY: (as Joanna) Oh, it’s such a beautiful day. I think i will go.

MONDELLO: These threads have to fight for screen time with less engaged – the socialist friend, the dream choreographed sequence, some flashbacks to writing letters, and a subplot that publishes The Big Man, not to mention whether Joanna .. .

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Hello.

TIM POST: (as JD Salinger) Hello.

MONDELLO: … will ever meet Jerry …

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Hello.

POST: (as JD Salinger) It’s Jerry.

MONDELLO: … face to face.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MY SELLER YEAR”)

QUALLEY: (as Joanna) Hello, Mr. Salinger.

MONDELLO: There’s a lot going on in “My Salinger Year”, but maybe not enough to make the audience feel particularly indebted to the filmmaker.

I am Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE BY RONES “NAKT”)

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