My New York Year
- Emma Simmonds
- 17 May 2021
Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley star in a likeable drama set in the literary world
Known elsewhere as My Salinger Year, this elegant but slightly uninspired entry from Québécois director Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie) is based on the memoir by Joanna Rakoff and kicked off last year's Berlinale. Beginning in 1996, it foregrounds the relationship between formidable literary agent Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) and her nervous young assistant Joanna (Margaret Qualley, daughter of Andie MacDowell) and plays a lot like the literary equivalent of The Devil Wears Prada, though that makes it sound more of a laugh than it is.
Still, the casting somewhat saves the day and the luminous Qualley makes a fine focus, conveying all the hopes and fears of her character, as Joanna drops out of Berkeley and takes her aspirations as a writer to New York, which she has wildly romanticised. When she lands a coveted job working at the literary agency of the reclusive J.D. Salinger, she's advised to keep her own ambition under wraps. Instead, she's slave to the whims of the haughty and tech-phobic Margaret, who makes her read Salinger's fan mail – which he never sees – and use a typewriter to send rather curt letters in response. There's thrilling phone conversations with the author, romance with Douglas Booth's fellow aspiring writer Don, and friendliness from Margaret's righthand man Hugh (Brían F. O'Byrne) and her lover Daniel (Colm Feore).
Wrapped in a cosy and pretty irresistible autumnal glow, My New York Year benefits tremendously from Qualley's tender and earnest turn, and from the imperious Weaver, still pin-sharp and glorious in her seventies; the role isn't much of a stretch for this screen legend, yet it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better. There's a comforting, lightly empowering quality to Joanna's journey of self-discovery, making the film very watchable and occasionally affecting, even if it's a safe and conservative portrait of being twentysomething that may struggle to appeal to the relevant crowd. Try as it might, it doesn't quite capture the magic of great literature and of finding your voice, but there's a certain amount of loveliness along the way.
Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 21 May.