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A Writer's Memoir About Her Clerical Job Becomes The Movie 'My Salinger Year'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Every aspiring writer should be as lucky as Joanna Rakoff. She was able to turn the story of her first job into a memoir. Now that memoir has been turned into a movie. Bob Mondello has our review of "My Salinger Year."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Joanna was only supposed to be in Manhattan for a few days during that summer back in the 1990s. A boyfriend beckoned in Berkeley, as did grad school, but...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

MARGARET QUALLEY: (As Joanna) I don't want to analyze other people's work anymore, Karl. I want to write.

HAMZA HAQ: (As Karl) In New York.

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Yeah.

MONDELLO: Not that she had a way to support herself. Still, what's a little poverty when you're fresh out of college and ready to take on the world?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Isn't that what aspiring writers did - live in cheap apartments and write in cafes?

MONDELLO: Romantic twaddle.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Yeah, I know, but it's what I wanted.

MONDELLO: So Joanna, played by Margaret Qualley, applies for a job with a literary agency. Its office looks like 1927 - dark wood paneling, no computers and a queen bee played by Sigourney Weaver, who punctuates pauses with clouds of cigarette smoke. When Joanna tries to impress her with a collegiate reading list that includes Flaubert, she's dismissive.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: (As Margaret) To be in this field, you'll need to read authors who are alive.

MONDELLO: But she needs someone who can type, and Joanna's hired and told they'll talk about Jerry later. It's only halfway out of the office on her way to meet friends that she realizes who Jerry is.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Guess who my boss represents.

XIAO SUN: (As Lisa) Anne Rice.

GAVIN DREA: (As Mark) The Pope.

DOUGLAS BOOTH: (As Don) Thomas Pynchon.

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) J.D. Salinger.

SUN: (As Lisa) No way.

BOOTH: (As Don) He's still alive?

MONDELLO: Her job is to answer his mail, basically retyping wording originally penned by Salinger himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Mr. Salinger does not wish to receive mail from his readers. Thus, we cannot pass your kind note on to him. 1963.

BRIAN F O'BYRNE: (As Hugh) That's the year he stopped responding himself. You need to type the new one based exactly on this, verbatim, no change.

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) So Salinger doesn't get any of his mail.

O'BYRNE: (As Hugh) Not one. You shred them.

WEAVER: (As Margaret) You should always read them, just in case.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Just in case.

MONDELLO: In case there's another Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon and then waited for the police on the curb afterward, reading Salinger's "Catcher In The Rye."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) At his trial, Chapman said that the big part of him was Holden Caulfield.

WEAVER: (As Margaret) And the small part of him was the devil.

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Did Chapman write to Salinger?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) We'll never know since we throw away the mail.

MONDELLO: Writer-director Philippe Falardeau has had perhaps too many ideas about how to liven up Rakoff's memoir. He gives the demanding-boss workplace story a devil reads Prada vibe.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

WEAVER: (As Margaret) Tabs wrong, margins wrong, proper names wrong, really, everything wrong. You can start retyping today. And here, as a bonus, is today's dictation.

MONDELLO: And away from work, when Joanna is stretching her young-woman-in-the-big-city wings, while "Moon River" plays on the soundtrack, the film clearly wants to be breakfast at Brentano's.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) May I get you a cab?

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Oh, it's such a nice day. I think I'll walk.

MONDELLO: Those threads must fight for screen time with less engaging ones - socialist boyfriend, choreographed dream sequence, some letter-writing flashbacks and a will-the-great-man-publish subplot, not to mention the question of whether Joanna...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Hello.

TIM POST: (As J.D. Salinger) Hello.

MONDELLO: ...Will ever meet Jerry...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Hello.

POST: (As J.D. Salinger) It's Jerry.

MONDELLO: ...Face-to-face.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Hello, Mr. Salinger.

MONDELLO: A lot going on in "My Salinger Year," though perhaps not enough of consequence to make audiences feel particularly beholden to the filmmaker.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF RONE'S "NAKT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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