Coming Through the Rye

One of the most unusual films based on a true story, writer/director James Steven Sadwith turns his own experience of meeting famous author J.D. Salinger into a feature film. Sadwith typically works in television, but said at The Austin Film Festival, after years of retelling this story, was compelled to turn it into a motion picture. Hearing Sadwith explain the events portrayed in the coming of age story gave Coming Through the Rye great purpose. “Go write your own material,” Salinger said to a young teenage Sadwith. If you adapt Catcher in the Rye into a play you are stealing, he told him. Oscar winning actor Chris Cooper (Adaptation, August Osage County) explained how he relied on Sadwith’s encounter to portray the recluse.

As a sophomore attending all boys school Crampton University in 1969, Jamie Schwartz (Wolff) cannot find his place among the other students. For months he is bullied and ridiculed until firecrackers are thrown in his room one night, prompting his flee from campus. For his final project in theater, Jamie has been trying to adapt Catcher in the Rye from page to stage. However, he needs author Salinger’s permission and sets off with local townie Deedee (Owen) who has a car. Her motives for helping the boy obsessed with character Holden Caulfield are purely romantic. Jamie comes to understand and face more of his own personal issues on this adventure than just finishing a passion project.

There is a most welcome maturity to Coming Through the Rye that most coming of age stories lack.

There is a most welcome maturity to Coming Through the Rye that most coming of age stories lack. Alex Wolff (young brother of Nat Wolff) seemed greatly affected by the material and translating Sadwith’s very personal story. That affection flickers on screen for both artists. Cooper’s performance as Salinger is tricky, especially since the actor is almost always served characters who are gruff and hard. Yet there is softness inside the way Cooper portrays him in the two scenes. Set in the fall season, Sadwith and his cinematographer really take advantage of wide helicopter shots in the Virginia area. A joke within the film is how Jamie uses the phrase “Salingerish” to describe key elements that remind him of how the author writes, but the entire film is hosed down in that same sentiment.

The notion that Salinger told Sadwith to create his own original work, which clearly has become this film is a nice full circle journey that the director has chosen to share with the world. The love story between Jamie and Deedee is written as a composite to both a girlfriend during his teen years and Sadwith’s wife. The nontraditional portrayal of this love story, especially the awkward sexual encounter, makes it more interesting and easy to watch since it doesn’t follow the patterns of other films in the genre. Coming Though the Rye will be of great interest to fans of the author and the book, but the selling point here is Sadwith offering up something so personal and life changing.

Final Thought

Filmmaker Sadwith delivers a personal and intimate retelling of his meeting with author J.D. Salinger.


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