To say that critics have not been kind to Shane Salerno’s “Salinger” is an understatement. They call it subjective to the point of hagiography, bloated and overlong, the ultimate intrusion in the life of an author who lived on the equivalent of a mountaintop in order to be left alone by the myriad fans enthralled for the last two generations by his single book, “The Catcher in the Rye.” They say the music is syrupy, the reenactment unnecessary, the various commentators (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, John Cusack, former girlfriends, former editors, et al) too laudatory. They also say it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t know, which can only be true for people who have followed every detail of every year of this author’s life since his instant fame sixty years ago and his retiring, at the peak of success, to a hamlet in New Hampshire, never to speak another word about himself. The documentary makes it clear that there has been a certain amount of prurient curiosity, natural enough, I suppose, when a book has sold 60 million copies the world over and continues to sell 250,000 copies a year (at least according to this retelling), has been the inspiration for at least three murders or attempted murders (John Lennon’s assassin and President’s Reagan’s would-be one declared Catcher to be their bible, one other guy, also a Holden Caulfield fan, killed an actress, Rebecca Schaeffer). All that although the short novel is not, as most people who have not lived under a rock for the last 60 years know, a gory thriller or a how-to for murder but the short coming of age story of a young man in turn funny, wise, and insufferable, from a posh family—a pleasant enough tale but worthy of its extraordinary fame and reach? I don’t know. I don’t remember it much.
As a writer myself, I enjoyed “Salinger.” It wasn’t a learning experience but then I don’t regard movies as such but as entertainment and this one did its job. Now, will it remain in film history as Catcher has, perhaps undeservedly, remained in literary history, maybe not. But that’s okay too.