‘Saligner’ is made of equal parts love and squalor

This rare photo of J.D. Salinger at the end of WWII is on view in the documentary on his life. Credit: The Weinstein Company
This rare photo of J.D. Salinger at the end of WWII is on view in the documentary on his life.
Credit: The Weinstein Company

‘Salinger’
Director: Shane Salerno
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Documentaries on artists need not necessarily resemble their subjects’ work. But it’s unlikely that there’s a film about J.D. Salinger that, stylistically speaking, the author would have hated more than “Salinger.” This is a standard expository doc, with overly dramatic music cues and constant inserts of an actor furiously typing away while chain-smoking. It’s the kind of film that would have inspired rude words from the writer’s most signature creation.

Of course, Salinger would have also likely hated how much it peers into a life he kept at least mostly private. Made while he was alive (most of the talking heads speak about him in the present tense) but released three years after his death, it offers unprecedented access to a writer who dropped out of society just as his most famous work was snowballing into an official rite of passage for kids into pissy adolescence. Cutting himself off behind a New Hampshire compound, he was kept busy with sad stalkers, desperate to seek advice from a man whose writing articulated their antisocial feelings better than they ever could.

Some of the revelations have already been revealed, though the major missing aspect is Salinger himself. It’s up to filmmaker Shane Salerno — a big-time screenwriter with credits on “Armageddon” and “Avatar” — to find the truth amongst conflicting reports. He does admirable snooping, revealing a man more savvy than he led on — one prone to traveling, showing up backstage at premieres and calling up The New York Times to spill some beans himself.

Almost inevitably, given the paucity of hard facts — and the plethora of autobiographical suggestions that riddle his work — it also winds up too reductive. The narrative he sculpts posits the writer as a sensitive soul broken by Oona O’Neill, the teenaged socialite daughter of Eugene O’Neill. She wooed him, only to shack up with Charles Chaplin while Salinger was being further traumatized by WWII. Her presence — plus the number of young girls hanging with older men peppered through his work — supposedly buttresses claims that he was a perv forever attracted to innocence.

How much of this is true? It’s hard to say, especially as the anti-Salinger sect, including his daughter (but not his son), get more and more screentime. A fawning hagiography would have been bad, but “Salinger” goes too far the other way into rickety hit piece. There’s even a long section dwelling on the psychos —Mark David Chapman, John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot Rebecca Schaeffer — who claimed “Catcher in the Rye” as their bible, citing them as proof of the author’s inhumanity. (Nevermind the millions who have plowed through the book without hurting anyone.)

Amusingly, this set piece leads directly into the most shocking revelation: Completed, never-released Salinger manuscripts are to be published, now that he’s no longer alive to stop them. Salinger’s work is dangerous — and, hooray, there’s more en route!

Sometimes Salerno’s portrait does attain complexity, not confusion. (Salerno also co-wrote an epic book on the subject, which allows more space to avoid reductive claims.) In the final moments, Salerno throws in the last known footage of Salinger, getting into a car with his last life mate and smiling. It’s a moment whose normalcy make the claims and charges that preceded it seem like rank assumptions. He was just a guy.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Drive charged in fatal hit and run, police…

The NYPD has arrested a man they say is responsible for a fatal hit and run in Manhattan last weekend. Doohee Cho, 33, was hit…

Local

Mayor de Blasio raises minimum wage for some…

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order Tuesday morning that will raise the minimum wage for workers employed by private companies that receive more…

National

3 myths about the working poor

Linda Tirado works to debunk some common stereotypes about the working poor in her new book, "Hand to Mouth."

Money

Lawsuit funding advances: friend or foe?

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Many plaintiffs awaiting resolution of their lawsuit or legal claim often find themselves in a tricky financial…

Going Out

Which NYC restaurant lost its three-star Michelin rating?

A record 73 restaurants in New York City collected coveted Michelin stars on Tuesday as a mix of trendy spots and fine-dining stalwarts underscored the…

Entertainment

Interview: Metro chats with filmmaker Meir Kalmanson, man…

A New York filmmaker hands out smiles to its residents.

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 30: 'Selfie,' 'Utopia'…

'Selfie' This modern day take on the "My Fair Lady" story stars John Cho in the Henry Higgins role. Perhaps instead of "the rain in…

Music

Can't-miss weekend events continue to attract the masses

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Earlier this summer, the Firefly Music Festival drew crowds of tens of thousands of people to Dover, Delaware.…

MLB

Mets 2014 report card

The Mets wrapped up their eight straight season without a playoff appearance last weekend. Needless to say, they fell a bit short of general manager…

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb

NFL

Ryan Quigley making a big impact for Jets…

Ryan Quigley, now in his second year as the Jets punter, had an exceptional afternoon with six punts for an average of 51.7 yards per punt.

NFL

3 positives to take from Jets loss to…

The Jets suffered another loss Sunday — 24-17 to the Lions — but the reason why it hurts so much for Jets fans is that…

Style

Products that support breast cancer awareness and research

Asics GT-1000, $100 Asics’ third pink collection in collaboration with Christina Applegate’s Right Action for Women includes this pink-accented version of its best-selling GT-1000 3…

Wellbeing

Dr. Marisa Weiss: Where we stand on breast…

As an oncologist and a survivor herself, Dr. Marisa Weiss knows the urgency felt by those diagnosed with breast cancer. Genetic testing has accelerated the…

Wellbeing

Bees' stingers hold new hope for cancer cure

A promising new lead in the search for a cancer cure has turned up in a place that most people naturally avoid. A team from…

Home

Emily Henderson on small space design

Design expert Emily Henderson shows us how to upgrade our cramped quarters.