Let’s begin by admitting that this is an easy target: The movie trailer is hardly (ever?) a paragon of nuance. But, even by such standards, the new trailer for Salinger, a biopic-documentary produced by The Weinstein Company and directed by Shane Salerno (who spent $2 million of his own cash to get the film made), scheduled to be released this September, descends to some pretty abysmal lows.
First, there’s the fundamental irony of this film: a tribute (sort of) that’s supplying exactly the kind of attention that Salinger never wanted. Shortly after withdrawing from New York society, in 1953, Salinger allowed some high school students to write about him; when he was stung by the results, he built a six-foot fence around his property. Privacy was paramount; even publishing became a terrible invasion.
Such debates, however, are not really germane now that the author’s gone. The more notable thing about this trailer is its plain weirdness. The cast of the film includes Gore Vidal and Tom Wolfe, as well as literary luminaries like Danny DeVito and Philip Seymour Hoffman. But when some of the, er, experts who surface in the film were asked about their appearances by The New York Times, they hardly seemed to recall having given interviews. “Now, I remember the guy,” said the playwright John Guare, “but it was filmed so long ago.” (Guare offers one of the more dramatic insinuations posited by the trailer: “If one person used something I had written as the justification for killing somebody, I’d say, God, ‘People are crazy.’ … But if three people used something I had written as justification, I would be very very troubled by it.”)
Then there’s the barrage of tortured-writer clichés: shadowy black and white photos, typed manuscript pages with crossed-out sentences and other scribblings, papers swept from a desk with fiery flourish, and—best of all—a silhouetted figure striking The Thinker pose against a projection of words, words, WORDS! Can you sense the anxiety and ennui? In case you missed it, the voiceover instructs: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon.” And Salinger, the trailer continues, “had demons.”
Salerno has said “you’re not going to see the best parts of the film in the trailer.” It’s impossible to tell exactly what those “best parts” might be. The manuscript locked in a safe? The distressing years as a soldier in World War II, to which the trailer alludes by flashing a gonzo Norman Rockwell–esque soldier on the screen accompanied by some stock shots of battle? As a Salinger fan, I hope we haven’t seen the best this film has to offer. But, in the immortal words of Holden Caulfield, I smell a phony.
Chloe Schama is a story editor at The New Republic.