Life and art collide in obvious ways throughout Coming Through the Rye, a sort-of-based-on-a-true-story account of a 1969 boarding-school outcast named Jamie (Alex Wolff) whose love for The Catcher in the Rye compels him to adapt J.D. Salinger’s novel into a play — and then to seek out the author to receive permission to stage it.
The ensuing saga finds Jamie breaking the fourth wall, wearing a red cap, pining for the popular girl, being picked on by bullies and searching for Salinger with the aid of Deedee (Stefania LaVie Owen), who not-so-secretly likes him — all while harboring a painful secret about his older brother (Zephyr Benson).
The parallels between Jamie and Holden Caulfield are so consistently underlined that Jamie comes across as a fictional device rather than an actual flesh-and-blood individual. Moreover, writer/director James Steven Sadwith’s film too often tells rather than shows, draining any mystery from its protagonist’s journey toward self-awareness. Even Chris Cooper, here tasked with embodying the famously reclusive Salinger, is stuck in two dimensions, grumbling and growling with a Holden-is-mine possessiveness that conveys only a surface understanding of the man.
Regardless of its capable performances and understated direction, and no matter that it was inspired by Sadwith’s own hunt for Salinger, Coming Through the Rye comes across as a cute conceit incapable of sustaining a substantial feature.
Coming Through the Rye
Written and directed by James Sadwith
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Opens October 14, Village East Cinema