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There are a number of films that feature a fan going on a trip to find a literary or cinematic hero that ends up more like an odyssey. Tales of self-discovery are part and parcel in cinema and like any movie, finding a unique voice is the real challenge. With Coming Through The Rye, a gentle little film that feels like a slice of the times, it might be tempting to heap this on the pile with a cursory glance, but there is something special in the layers of this minor release.
Set in the late 1960s, we meet Jamie Schwartz (Alex Wolff), a talented but unpopular boy wallowing in an all-boys Pennsylvania prep school where he is bullied and tormented for his straight-arrow behavior, lack of athletic prowess, and his love for writing and theater, especially the work of J.D. Salinger, whose book, The Catcher in the Rye he wants to adapt into a play. Problem is, he needs the author’s permission and the man is a famous recluse. Urged by his new best friend DeeDee (Stefania LaVie Owen), who fully supports Jamie, they head to New Hampshire where they believe Salinger is living, in hopes of finding him and more importantly, convincing him that a play is worthwhile. They learn that most roads are dead ends, literally and figuratively, but there are still surprises to be had in traveling upon them.
Written and directed by James Steven Sadwith, an Emmy award-winning director, the film is biographical, telling his own story of meeting the famous writer by a rather circuitous path. It’s held together by some truly good performances and a script that snaps with great energy. Sadwith understands well the compulsive nature of youth, and the awakening power great literature can have on an impressionable mind, the dialogue wonderfully authentic, delivered with deep sincerity.
That starts with Wolff, who brings a quiet vulnerability to part that is outwardly optimistic as he faces a number of troubling setbacks, including the boys in his school and the harsh words of his idol. Wolff is effortlessly engaging, embracing the characteristics of Holden Caulfield while equally defining the growth away from him as he progresses through the story. He’s matched by Owen who is far from the expected rescue girl, her character one with such heart and affection, her presence throughout elevates every scene she’s in. The romance that tenuously builds is one of honesty and trust, and while neither know the depths of who both truly are, their exploration of it makes for some touching moments.
Chris Cooper plays Salinger in what amounts to an extended cameo, but takes to the role with great weight, his appearance wholly commanding as he defends the work of the man he portrays. Sadwith does him great justice in painting him with kindness and concern rather than curmudgeonly and bitter. He isn’t distasteful of his own writing and what it means to those who have come to be moved by it, but rather rocksteady in his stand to see it untarnished.
The film has an immersion to it that so few movies capture, the settings and sense of place terrifically imagined, and while it is good to look at it, it is the well-realized characters that make this what it is. We are invested quickly in Jamie Schwartz, who invites us to join him, even speaking a few times directly to us, and the payoff is well-earned when it comes, an emotional ah-ha moment that defies convention. Coming through the Rye may not be for everyone, but it will please lovers of the genre and more especially, the driven who feel powerful connections to words that move them.
Movie description: Coming Through The Rye is a 2016 coming-of-age film about two teenagers who go on a journey to find an elusive author but find the road home to greater challenges.
Director(s): James Steven Sadwith
Actor(s): Alex Wolff, Stefania LaVie Owen, Chris Cooper