Rebel in the Rye

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Rebel in the Rye

Making a movie about an eccentric recluse who detested public scrutiny is a risky undertaking. Add to that the difficulty of drawing a portrait of the writer who created The Catcher in the Rye, and the challenge becomes even tougher. J.D. Salinger wrote thirteen short stories and one novel that sold 65 million copies and still sells 250,000 each year. Kenneth Slawenski wrote a biography and Danny Strong has directed Rebel in the Rye. Reviews have been negative. I liked it very much.

When someone develops an involuntary inner passion, little else matters. J.D. Salinger’s uninvited passion was writing. From a young age he saw the adult world as a collection of phony people while for him children were real. This movie follows the discomfort of a writer who is locked in his passion without wanting to be. He had to get that story out because it wouldn’t leave his head. He was living the story as he was writing it and he knew early on that he had to live the whole thing before he could finish it.

Salinger himself was Holden Caulfield in every way. He lived in a family with an encouraging mother and a father who insisted he must earn money in a traditional job. His father’s command was “Grow up!” He became friends with Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey), his writing teacher at Columbia. Burnett recognized his student’s talent and became a demanding advisor as he led him through the tough hurdles of becoming a published writer.

As a soldier in WWII the violence he saw knocked Salinger down. After watching the deaths of the D-Day invasion and the concentration camps at war’s end, he came home emotionally broken. His wartime experience and losing the woman he loved, Eugene O’Neill’s daughter Oona (Zoey Deutch), stopped him cold before he was able to finish the book. Called arrogant by many, he was a tortured man.

Nicholas Hoult is convincing as Salinger though creating a portrait of a recluse is a tough assignment. Kevin Spacey is thoroughly convincing as the exacting advisor who offers encouragement when he sees the talent in his difficult student. Credit Sarah Paulson as Salinger’s agent along with Hope Davis and Victor Garber as his parents.

After moving to isolation in the woods of Cornish, NH, Salinger finished the book, wrote a few essays and disappeared from public view until the obituaries announced his death at 91.

This was a man who detested the ruckus that accompanied the success of his novel and refused to recognize, much less to capitalize on the fame that had engulfed him so suddenly. He saw the adult world as a world of fools. Salinger was an introvert writing from his own experience as it unfolded. For me, and I hope for many others, his life story is as compelling as the fine book he wrote about it. The movie is a brave first shot at understanding a genuine introvert.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Rebel in the Rye
Word Count : 497
Running time : 1:46
Rating : PG-13
Date : September 24, 2017

Tulip Fever

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Tulip Fever

An artist and the woman whose portrait he is painting can fall in love at any time in any place. In Tulip Fever it happens in 17th century Amsterdam when the tulip market soared and plunged in a way that feels just like the frenzy of our contemporary stock market. Sadly, the fact that the film opens with promise and ends in failure must be laid at the feet of writers Deborah Moggach, an experienced writer, and Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love).

Sophie (Alicia Vikander) has outgrown her stay at an orphanage run by the abbess (Judi Dench) who finds her a home and marriage to Cornellis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz) who adores her on sight. Sophie, he knows, will be the fine mother of the son they must produce. So right at the start we have Vikander. Waltz, and Dench, each a deserving winner of an academy award in the recent past. How can anything go wrong with that cast?

Cornellis adores Sophie and commissions Jan (Dane De Haan), a promising young artist, to paint a majestic portrait of the couple. Sophie falls in love with Jan and they begin an affair that takes us through 17th century Amsterdam as they indulge themselves. So far so good. Not one of them is a villain and we can root for all.

We absorb a fun bit of history as abbess Judi Dench explains the tulip fever of the time. It’s a moment when the mania for tulips, especially the rare white one with slight red has become the headquarters of the tulip market with men bidding in a frenzied version of today’s high flyers. We are happily absorbed in the culture of ancient Amsterdam (actually filmed in England). Women are invisible; men are tyrannical.

And then the whole thing falls apart in the writing of Deborah Maggach and Tom Stoppard. In a jolt of convoluted reasoning and utterly ridiculous filming, Sophie and Jan will do the standard thing of running away together; but first they will collude with pregnant housemaid, Maria (Holiday Granger) in a thoughtful effort to hurt Cornellis less. This leads to a delivery of the baby scene that is possibly one of the more ridiculous things ever filmed.

The cast is full of fine actors – add Tom Hollander as Dr. Sorgh, the delivery doctor – and it is a lethal act to all of them to force them to undermine their reputations with the prolonged silliness of two women screaming in pain – one real, one fake – while the happy father stands on the other side of the door. As much as I hate to savage a movie, this is one that begins with promise and ends in absurdity.

The word is out that it took several years along with cast changes and rewrites to make Tulip Fever. What was Tom Stoppard thinking? Given the fine quality of all the actors we can only wish they had quit while they were ahead.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Tulip Fever
Word Count : 501
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : September 17, 2017


This review was posted on September 17, 2017, in Drama, Romance.