If James Sadwith's Coming Through the Rye follows a familiar path it's only because so many coming-of-age dramas about teen boy protagonists crib from J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye". The only difference here is that the story actually happened to Sadwith, and the path leads directly to the reclusive Salinger's front door. Think about that for a second: to be a young kid whose life was changed by Salinger's momentous novel, only to come face-to-face with the author himself. While it may resemble many other films one thing they can't replicate is Sadwith's personal touch, and a sense that he's still amazed all of this happened to him.
Alex Wolff plays Sandwith analogue Jamie Schwartz, who in 1969 is feeling like a total misfit at the all-boys boarding school he attends in Pennsylvania. He feels that way because he is a misfit, at least in the eyes of everybody else. He doesn't care about sports but has a soft spot for theater, both the starring in and the creative. The other guys, who Jamie refers to as "phonies", bully him about it mercilessly. He might as well change his name to "asshole" for all the times he's called it.
One thing Jamie loves more than anything is "The Catcher in the Rye", and like millions of other boys he identifies with its hero, Holden Caufield. He even has the jacket and red hat with the flaps. A conversation with his teacher (Adrian Pasdar of Heroes) gives him the bright idea to adapt "Rye" as a school play.
The problem? There are many. He doesn't have Salinger's permission, he doesn't know where to find him, and Salinger wouldn't allow it anyway.
Thus begins Jamie's quest to find the author and beg his approval...and if it gets him away from the people he despises so much, all's the better. His journey wouldn't go anywhere without the lovely, charming DeeDee (Stefanie Owen, scene-stealer if there ever was one), a freckled girl who we instantly know is exactly Jamie's type. Of course there's another girl he's pining over, a gorgeous blond who barely knows he goes to the same school.
It's a romantic predicament we've seen a million times before, but Wolff and Owen make an irresistible pair. Jamie has many of the same woe-is-me tendencies as Holden Caufield which makes him a little tough to sympathize with, but DeeDee sees the passionate guy underneath it all. With her energy and courage she encourages that side of him to come out more, giving him the strength to seek out Salinger when the odds seem impossible. Let's just say the New Hampshire locals aren't so keen on giving away Salinger's location.
Their road trip isn't exactly fraught with peril or cataclysmic disasters. It's made up of little moments that often mirror Holden Caufield's trek. There are awkward sexual encounters, disappointments, and painful memories, but also tender times between Jamie and DeeDee. We learn more about his older brother, who helped encourage his rebellious behavior, and learn what it means when something is described as "Salinger-ish". While you can applaud Sadwith for not overcooking the teenage angst, there's something to be said about too little happening. It takes a while for the story to get going and then moves at the speed of...well, New Hampshire.
And since it really isn't a mystery, yes Salinger does appear, played by the great Chris Cooper in yet another terrific supporting turn. Perhaps the best thing about it is that he doesn't make Salinger look like an angry tool. He's certainly abrasive, a bit short-tempered, but he's generally a warm-hearted guy who is very protective of his work. And I think by the end of our scenes with him we get an idea as to why; they are his stories. Stories of his life, stories of his feelings at a certain moment in time. Coming Through the Rye obviously won't have the same impact as Salinger's cherished work, but those who give it a shot may find that it speaks to them on some level, too.