My New York Year

 

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Misjudgment reigns in a film set in Manhattan in the 1990s.

 
My New York Year

  

Not having read Joanna Rakoff's successful memoir My Salinger Year, I cannot compare the source material with this film adaptation of it written and directed by the Canadian filmmaker Philippe Falardeau. Although the movie is simply described as being based on her book, Rakoff is herself one of the executive producers so one can take it that this treatment had her approval. But, regardless of what may have been achieved on the printed page, this film version is an inept affair. Originally it kept the book's title and it is reasonable to suppose that it was the popularity of the reclusive author J.D. Salinger and of his seminal 1950s novel The Catcher in the Rye that aroused interest in what Rakoff had to say. Since Salinger's fame seems in no danger of receding, the film's late title change is bizarre.

 

As for Joanna Rakoff, played here by Margaret Qualley, she left Berkeley to live in New York at a time when she was a young aspiring writer. She soon succeeded in entering the literary world but only to the extent of finding a post as a secretary in a literary agency. It was one of distinction which continued to represent Salinger even after fresh works by him had dried up. Indeed, her work for them involved sending standard replies to those who kept up a continuing flow of fan mail addressed to Salinger since he himself wanted neither to reply nor, indeed, even to see them. In the process of carrying out this duty, Joanna was touched by some of the letters and chose to send more personal replies under her own name. Her subsequent book published in 2014 told of that time, that year, in her life.

 

Although the book did well, on viewing the film one quickly realises that the appeal of the material is problematic. Despite the film having now altered its title to the more anonymous My New York Year, it was clearly Salinger's name that brought in a big readership and yet the piece as filmed reveals little about him. He is glimpsed - just - and he is heard briefly in three telephone conversations with Joanna, But the film is more about her than is about him. In theory this could have had its own appeal, but Falardeau's approach fails to find it. He does offer one character of interest in Joanna's old-fashioned but successful employer, Margaret (Sigourney Weaver), who at this time (it was 1995) was still resistant to modern technology such as computers. But everything else about the film is ill-judged. Because the Salinger angle does not develop, the film's second half falls back more and more on Joanna's love life: she has a slightly older socialist-minded boyfriend in New York who also writes - that's Don played by Douglas Booth - and a former boyfriend left behind in Berkeley who has not forgotten her, Karl (Hamza Haq). But these two characters are just sketched in and consequently that side of the film has little interest. It's even less well judged when one key scene suddenly involves an element of fantasy and dance found nowhere else in the film.

 

However, stylisation of a kind that destroys any sense of credibility has already implanted itself through Falardeau's decision to let the writers of those fan letters say them out loud direct to camera. Later still some of these people materialise in New York albeit in imagination. For all these errors of judgment, something might have been salvaged had Margaret Qualley been able to make us empathise with Joanna. But she too speaks direct to camera at the start and the writing fails to suggest either her vulnerability or any potential talent as a writer that would make her an endearing and sympathetic heroine. Furthermore, her role in the agency never rings true. The name of the real one is not used, but we are informed that everybody is dying to get this post for which Margaret readily accepts her despite Joanna lying about her ability to type. And that's only the start of this unbelievable New York year! The one success here is to be found in the well-judged performance by Sigourney Weaver, but in all other respects the film is a major disappointment.

 

Original title: My Salinger Year.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Margaret Qualley, Sigourney Weaver, Douglas Booth, Hamza Haq, Seána Kerslake, Brian F. O'Byrne, Colm Feore, Yanic Truesdale, Leni Parker, Matt Holland, Théodore Pellerin, Hayley Kezber, Gillian Doria.

 

Dir Philippe Falardeau, Pro Luc Déry and Kim McGraw, Screenplay Philippe Falardeau, based on the book by Joanna Smith Rakoff, Ph Sara Mishara, Pro Des Elise de Blois, Ed Frédérique Broos and Mary Finlay, Music Martin Léon, Costumes Patricia McNeil.

 

Parallel Films/micro_scope-Vertigo Releasing.
101 mins. Canada/Ireland. 2020. Rel: 21 May 2021. Cert. 15.