fri 19/04/2024

My New York Year review - lacklustre portrait of an ingenue | reviews, news & interviews

My New York Year review - lacklustre portrait of an ingenue

My New York Year review - lacklustre portrait of an ingenue

Old-fashioned romcom aimed at a young female audience misses its mark

All doe-eyed sweetness; Margaret Qualley as Joanna, the aspiring writer

This pallid chick flick limps out on release having changed its title since its Berlinale 2020 debut; in the US it's known as My Salinger Year, but perhaps market research in Blighty decreed that name-checking the author of The Catcher in the Rye wouldn't play as well here.

Based on novelist Joanna Rakoff’s 2014 auto-fiction, it’s an account of the period she spent working for a legendary literary agent in Manhattan in the mid-90s.  

While Rakoff’s book has some appeal for readers interested in publishing or nostalgic for accounts of ambitious young graduates trying to balance their love lives, student debt, and badly paid work in the big city, the film adaptation is lacklustre. Hopes that My New York Year would be as bitchily glamorous as The Devil Wears Prada or as gritty and honest as Girls rapidly go out the window. 

This is a by-the-numbers film which is let down by the casting. Margaret Qualley plays Joanna as a wide-eyed ingénue with very little development. Best known for playing Pussycat, the teenage temptress whom Brad Pitt's character heroically spurns in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, she's all trussed up here in frumpy frocks and cardigans. The daughter of Andie McDowell, Qualley may be easy on the eye and her training in ballet makes the fantasy dance sequence mildly enjoyable. But she’s simply not a strong enough actor to hold the attention with a weak script. Things perk up when Sigourney Weaver is on screen; she plays Margaret, a grand dame boss-lady, and rocks a skunk streaked hair-do in homage to Susan Sontag (pictured below). Weaver can phone in such performances with her trademark élan. She has fun with this role of an old school literary agent who abhors all modern technology, dictates her letters on to audiotape and expects Joanna to type them up on a Selectric with carbon copies for the filing cabinets. If there's a niche audience out there for office nostalgia, they'll be happy.My New York YearBut most of all, Margaret exhorts Joanna to honour her most famous author’s privacy at all times. JD Salinger’s devoted fans phone in regularly and bombard the agency with requests for his address; Joanna’s job is to type out a standard reply, unchanged since the '60s, in response to the sacks of personal, passionate letters his followers send to the agency, explaining that the writer does not want to hear from fans. There’s some comedy in the staging of these desperate requests for contact which take the form of on-screen, pleading monologues, but it’s incomprehensible that Joanna, a literature graduate with her own dream of becoming a writer, would never have read Salinger prior to working for his agent. When the fabled author phones the office and is benignly encouraging to Joanna, it's oddly phony, to use one of his pet terms. 

The scenes with her flaky boyfriend and his friends leaven the mix somewhat, but in an era where we’ve got used to seeing young women portray themselves as less than perfect in Fleabag and I May Destroy YouMy New York Year is painfully old fashioned. It’s more like watching a re-run of a subpar episode of Friends than a film designed for a release in 2021.

Hopes that this would be as bitchily glamorous as 'The Devil Wears Prada' rapidly go out the window


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters