The script is based on a 2014 memoir by Joanna Rakoff. It’s the mid-90s and querulous literary agent Margaret (Weaver) has top clients, including J.D. Salinger. Her new assistant Joanna (Qualley) hasn’t even read Catcher in the Rye, let alone Franny and Zooey, but becomes entranced by the earnest fan mail Salinger receives.
During a series of phone calls, Joanna forms a tentative relationship with the avuncular and cosily eccentric writer. She also gets a caddish boho boyfriend (Douglas Booth). Joanna is as conscientious as The Devil Wears Prada’s Andy. But, in the Big Apple, is having integrity a blessing or a curse?
Watching Joanna and Margaret at work is a hoot. Margaret is a regal and neurotic Luddite who throws venomous looks at a recently-installed computer. Like a postman faced with a vicious dog, Margaret is braced and ready for the evil contraption to pounce. A jagged encounter with British author Rachel Cusk (Hayley Kezber) is similarly droll.
Unfortunately, while Salinger’s crisp, one-of-a-kind style fuels many discussions, Philipe Falardeau’s direction is bland. You find yourself wishing this film had been made by Wes Anderson, say, or Whit Stillman, bold auteurs who could have distracted us from a script that, ultimately, is shallow and sentimental. Not every New York story needs mean streets and/or mean people, but Joanna’s journey is gentle to a fault.