Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Canada/Ireland, 2020. micro_scope, Parallel Film Productions. Screenplay by Philippe Falardeau, based on the book by Joanna Smith Rakoff. Cinematography by Sara Mishara. Produced by Luc Dery, Kim McCraw. Music by Martin Leon. Production Design by Elise de Blois. Costume Design by Patricia McNeil. Film Editing by Frédérique Broos, Mary Finlay.
Quickly following her notable performances in Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood and as Ann Reinking on Fosse/Verdon, Margaret Qualley further proves herself worthy of stardom with her warm and witty lead performance in this adaptation of Joanna Smith Rakoff’s bestselling memoir. In the summer of 1995, Rakoff takes a break from her studies in California to visit her best friend in New York City and quickly falls in love with the city, deciding to break up with her Berkeley boyfriend and stay on the east coast. This sounds like she’s going to be a painful movie cliché of young gals looking for love and career success in the city of a million stories, but Rakoff knows immediately that surviving in this town as a burgeoning poet requires a well-paying day job. Landing within the realm of her authorly ambitions, she is hired as an assistant at a venerated, generations-old literary agency whose legendary leader Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) refuses to allow the presence of computers, which she believes create more work than alleviate it and who insists that the office keep up an appearance untouched by time (the film was shot in Montreal, which contributes to the appearance of a Manhattan preserved in a period even earlier than the one it takes place in). The agency’s star client is J.D. Salinger, who has retired from writing and refuses to communicate with his fans, and Rakoff, who has never read anything of his including that staple of high school reading lists, The Catcher In The Rye, is assigned to write the rejection letters sent to all prospective correspondents hoping to connect with him. After reading a number of the missives that come in, Rakoff decides that some of them are from unique, special individuals and takes it upon herself to give them more elaborate responses than the boiler-plate she’s been assigned by her boss, risking her job by telling these anonymous fans (whose communication we see played out by actors) her opinions on why they are worthy despite the fact that they will never hear back from the author that they feel such a connection with. This combination of The Devil Wears Prada and Can You Ever Forgive Me has a number of wonderful elements that it lines up quite beautifully without ever really choosing one as its centre: the buzzing drama at the office, which includes Weaver’s relationship with her partner (played by Colm Feore) and Brían F. O’Byrne as the office copyright lawyer, doesn’t have much conflict considering that Rakoff’s learning the ropes is awkward but never particularly dangerous for her, while at home her relationship with new boyfriend Douglas Booth, who is writing his Great American Novel while she works to support them in their crappy sink-less flat, takes a predictable turn. Is the movie about her finding her own moment as an artist, or is her near-encounter with the practically mythical Salinger a clarifying experience that gives the story some kind of meaning? Are the letter-writers dramatized because it’s a movie about the power that literature has to affect our lives? Perhaps it’s actually about her relationship with Weaver, but despite the fact that she threatens to be as terrifying as the very definition of ruthless boss that she played in Working Girl, that also never has any dangerous stakes for our heroine. The film’s slackness makes one wonder if Forgive Me’s director, Marielle Heller, who never lets any potential go to waste in her films, might have brought this one up from warm and bubbly to actually having the crackle that its sharp and charismatic lead actress needs. Either way, it’s a pleasant viewing experience despite not being a notable one.