Occasionally, I’m a real starstruck starfucker; I’ve met two of my own idols, and each time was a story in itself. I’m a fan of both The Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories, too (though not so much Franny and Zooey).
So not surprisingly, I found the premise of Coming Through the Rye appealing and totally relatable: set in 1969, Jamie Schwartz (Alex Wolff), an angsty, unpopular, nerdy high school student at an all-boy boarding school in Pennsylvania, sets out to track down the reclusive J.D. Salinger (Chris Cooper). Like many a midcentury American boy, Jamie says Salinger’s Catcher changed his life; although he’s not as harsh, he identifies with Holden Caulfield because he sees himself isolated and surrounded by phonies. He seeks the author’s blessing on his senior project, a stage adaptation of Catcher (in which Jamie plays Caulfield, of course) to be performed at his school.
Anyone remotely familiar with Salinger knows that Jamie isn’t getting his wish, something at least two teachers let him know. The kid will not take no for an answer. After failing to reach Salinger both by letter and by dropping in on his agent in New York City, a series of unfortunate events at school prompts Jamie to take off and look for Salinger himself. Deedee (Stefania Owen), a local girl who likes him and fortunately for him has a car (a cool Rambler), picks him up and offers to drive. The two embark on a short odyssey through New England.
Equal parts road movie, romance, and coming of age story, there’s quite a bit to like here. Based on actual events from his own high school years, writer and director James Steven Sadwith crafts a straightforward, easygoing story that flows naturally. The many parallels between Jamie and Caulfield—right down to a red hunter’s cap and a disquieting older brother (Zephyr Benson)—are cute; the fact that Jamie is the only Jewish kid at a WASPy boarding school is a nice touch that underscores his status as an outsider. Sadwith does a fine job showing the loss of Jamie’s innocence through a number of small events. Wolff and Owen have a wonderfully guileless chemistry that works really well; a scene with milkweed blowing in the wind is downright beautiful. Jamie’s ultimate discoveries, however, aren’t so cute—this is what keeps Coming Through the Rye from turning into nostalgic drivel.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B