You can debate all you want the merits of J.D. Salinger's groundbreaking, best-selling "The Catcher in the Rye" or the sublime craft of his "Nine Stories," but you won't get any help on something as trite as writing from "Salinger," screenwriter-cum-director Shane Salerno's vacuous biopic about the great literary recluse of the 20th Century. It can't have been an easy thing, spending five or so years making such a film -- and writing a nearly 700-page biography along the way -- while remaining oblivious to what your subject meant to art, and the literature to which he devoted his life. But such is "Salinger," which will infuriate fans but might fascinate those who like car wrecks.
Cataloging what's missing from Salerno's movie -- for instance, why "The Catcher in the Rye" worked, or didn't, and what it meant and still means to the American novel -- would run into the sports section. What Salerno does give viewers is a parade of tangentially relevant people -- Gore Vidal, who could comment intelligently on anything, or Judd Apatow, for unfathomable reasons -- weighing in. Salerno highlights his attraction to very young women as well as emphasizing that Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley Jr. had copies of "Catcher" when they committed their crimes.
What he doesn't do is treat Salinger with much respect, or examine areas in the author's life that he opens to the air, then leaves alone. Salinger worked and worked to be published in the New Yorker; how did he survive all those lean years? His World War II experiences scarred him -- it's obvious in his work -- but what was it like for Salinger, a Jew, to have been at the liberation of Dachau? Not exactly minor omissions, and not exactly a movie worth its running time.
PLOT The life story, told from a tabloid perspective, of the man who wrote "The Catcher in the Rye."
CAST Joyce Maynard, Judd Apatow, Philip Seymour Hoffman, A.E. Hotchner, Gore Vidal
BOTTOM LINE Overdramatized and underwhelming treatment of J.D. Salinger's life, which forsakes the meaning of the work for the more tawdry aspects of the life.