Unnecessary material weighs down ‘Salinger’

“Reclusive.” Is that an adjective, or is it actually part of J.D. Salinger’s name? The word has been used so often to describe the famous writer, one could be forgiven for thinking it appears on his birth certificate.

But there’s obviously much more to the story of “reclusive author J.D. Salinger” than the way he withdrew from public view and publishing and spent much of his life in Cornish, N.H., where he was frequently pursued by avid fans.

One of the more entertaining tidbits in “Salinger,” the exhaustive, exhausting and overly hyped new documentary by Shane Salerno, is the account of one of those fans, who made the pilgrimage and clearly felt he was owed more time than he was granted.

“I’m not a counselor,” Salinger said, finally. “I’m a fiction writer.”

It would have been enough if “Salinger” had merely explored that one idea: How much did this writer, after capturing the world’s attention with “The Catcher in the Rye,” owe us?

Did he owe us a sequel, a novel every few years? Did he “owe” us more than he gave, before his death in 2010 at the age of 91? It seems many felt that way.

But Salerno, until now best known as a screenwriter for “Armageddon” and “Savages,” spent nearly a decade researching Salinger for this project, which includes a 700-page book and a TV documentary. And he had enough material, clearly, for five different films: “Salinger and his Wartime Past,” “for example. “Salinger and his Women.” “Salinger and His Struggles With Fame.”

Instead, he took a kitchen-sink approach, and while the film moves quickly for its 120 minutes, that approach blunts its impact.

Take, for example, the mere number of voices here. Though arguably the two most important people — Salinger’s children — did not cooperate, it seems most anyone else did.

And so we have fellow authors, literary folk, historians, former lovers, acquaintances and fans all having their say. Some have fascinating stories indeed, as in the wartime buddy who tells how Salinger arrived on the Normandy beaches on D-Day carrying in-progress chapters of “Catcher.”

Others, including Martin Sheen, John Cusack, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ed Norton and director Judd Apatow, are there to describe the impact Salinger’s work had on them, with mixed effect.

For those not already well versed in all things Salinger, there’s absorbing material on his wartime past: the amount of time he spent in combat, his counter-intelligence work and the breakdown he suffered later, after witnessing death-camp horrors.

On an entirely different note, there are amusing anecdotes about his aversion to selling out, particularly to Hollywood. “Tell Billy Wilder to stop calling me!” is one memorable quote.

There’s also much on Salinger’s affinity for younger women. Yet again, the material — though like much here, not all of it new — is undeniably interesting, like the account of Jean Miller, whom he met when she was 14.

Of course, there’s the finale: A revelation, based on anonymous sources, that there’s a trove of new Salinger works to be published, according to his detailed instructions, starting in 2015.

To which we can only say: Well, that would be amazing. But who knows? We can only wait and see.

“Salinger” 2½ stars

An exhaustive and exhausting “kitchen sink” biography of the reclusive Jerome D. Salinger, author of the seminal 1950s novel “The Catcher in the Rye.” There is some new information, lots of old information and plenty of unnecessary histrionics.

Rated: PG-13 for war images, smoking.

Showing: Seven Gables.

More in Life

Beer of the Week: 5 Rights Brewing’s Fresh hop imperial IPA

The Marysville brewery named its beer Wobbly the Laborer after the Industrial Workers of the World.

Get schooled on Texas BBQ at this Monroe restaurant in a bus

Brisket, pulled pork, sausage, chicken and the fixin’s all await you near the Reptile Zoo on U.S. 2.

Spy comedy ’Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ is laugh-out-loud funny

It’s a superficial but energetic sequel to the 2014 film about a clandestine British secret service.

Ben Stiller was born to play title character in ‘Brad’s Status’

Writer-director Mike White’s script has plenty of Brad’s voiceover, so this movie feels like a novel.

‘Friend Request’ a horror flick about the dangers of Facebook

Though it’s a little behind the times, Simon Verhoeven’s film about social media is effectively done.

39th annual Arts of the Terrace attracts regional artists

The Mountlake Terrace juried show features paintings, drawings, photography, miniatures and more.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

End of Summer Beer Garden Hog Roast: Seattle’s Ravenna Brewing is hosting… Continue reading

See both versions of ‘The Odd Couple’ on Historic Everett stage

The Outcast Players perform Neil Simon’s classic comedy with alternating male and female casts.

Hear new songs from Josh Clauson at Saturday release party

The producer of the Summer Meltdown music festival and Flowmotion band leader has a solo album out.

Most Read