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film review

Sigourney Weaver's role in My Salinger Year echoes Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.Jdupliei Artacho/Courtesy of Mongrel Media

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  • My Salinger Year
  • Directed by Philippe Falardeau
  • Written by Philippe Falardeau, based on the novel by Joanna Rakoff
  • Starring Margaret Qualley, Sigourney Weaver and Colm Feore
  • Classification R; 101 minutes

It is a small little movie-industry miracle that no one has ever made a film out of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Maybe – maybe! – just the right kind of cinematic vision could successfully translate Salinger’s once-in-a-generation literary voice to the screen. But so far, no one has dared gone the distance (well, that and the fact that the Salinger estate has kept the material out of would-be producers’ hands). Instead, we’ve gotten a handful of movies about J.D. Salinger, instead of films inspired by J.D. Salinger.

So, to the well-intentioned but forgettable 2017 biopic Rebel in the Rye and the 2013 documentary Salinger, we can now add the similarly interesting-in-theory My Salinger Year. An ambitious but faulty attempt to both enhance and demystify the Salinger legend, writer-director Philippe Falardeau’s new film is all about authorship and legacy and the ins and outs of the creative process, only with Salinger himself kept at an arm’s distance.

Adapting Joanna Rakoff’s 2014 memoir, which chronicled the author’s time as a low-tier clerk at Salinger’s literary agency, Falardeau delivers a story whose familiarity can be both pleasantly familiar and disappointingly unimaginative. Think of The Devil Wears Prada but with Margaret Qualley in the Anne Hathaway role, Sigourney Weaver subbing for Meryl Streep, Colm Feore stepping into Stanley Tucci’s shoes, and, um, Salinger’s never-truly-seen personage hovering above it all, like a ghostly S.I. Newhouse.

Margaret Qualley plays a young aspiring writer who lands a day job at J.D. Salinger’s literary agency.Courtesy of Mongrel Media

That tortured comparison above works better, any how, than Falardeau’s tale, which struggles to figure out just what story it wants to tell. Is it more interested in Rakoff’s literary ambitions, the spectre of Salinger’s influence on generations of would-be writers, the cutthroat world of the New York publishing industry or none of the above?

I’m afraid I don’t have an answer. After watching the film twice in quick succession – a futile attempt at catching a glimpse of what usually makes a Falardeau film so immensely watchable (see the Quebecois filmmaker’s Monsieur Lazhar, The Good Lie, My Internship in Canada and Chuck) – My Salinger Year ultimately lands as a mere footnote.

My Salinger Year is available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and the Cineplex Store, starting March 5

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.