Lions Gate presents
Chasing Holden (2001)
Neil: We're on our way to see J. D. Salinger. He's the guy who wrote The Catcher in the Rye.
Pappy: What am I, a retard?- D. J. Qualls, Colin Fox
Stars: D. J. Qualls, Rachel Blanchard, Sean Kanan
Director: Malcolm Clarke
Manufacturer: Advanced Media Post
MPAA Rating: R for language, including sex related dialogue
Run Time: 01h:41m:40s
Release Date: 2002-07-16
DVD ReviewI'll readily admit that, when I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time, in ninth grade, I was thunderstruck: this guy Salinger was talking directly to me, and I identified intensely with Holden Caulfield. I'm certain that my reaction wasn't unique, for if it were, The Catcher in the Rye wouldn't enjoy the sustained popularity it has for generations now of young adolescents, and the mysterious and elusive Salinger wouldn't remain, decades after he chose to exit the public arena, a continued figure of fascination and speculation.
No doubt the continued enigma of Salinger and the pull of his best-known book sparked the movie under review here—the Holden being chased is Caulfield, and doing the chasing is Neil Lawrence (D. J. Qualls). But somewhere between conception and execution this story idea went seriously (ahem) awry, because while it may be a good idea for a movie, the finished product doesn't really have a whole lot going for it.
Neil, 19, is the son of the Governor of New York; his folks are divorced, they both neglect him, and as we meet him, he's recently been released from a psychiatric hospital, and is packing off to a tony prep school in Pennsylvania. Neil reads The Catcher in the Rye with religious fervor, and regularly writes letters to Salinger—Neil is sure that the author will want to respond to him, his most ardent fan.
At the school, Neil meets T. J. (Rachel Blanchard), the cute local girl going to school on scholarship; her mother works in the cafeteria, and her father is suspicious of the snotty rich kid that T. J. has brought around. Neil's faculty advisor and English teacher, Mr. Patterson, seems to be very much in the mode of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society—the part is played by Sean Kanan, who also wrote the screenplay. Conveniently enough, when Neil arrives, midterm, Mr. Patterson's class is in the middle of reading Catcher, and Patterson gives them an assignment: describe Holden's life after the end of the novel. For reasons that remain murky, this assignment spins Neil out of control—he steals a gun from the headmaster's office, convinces T.J. to run away with him, and hitchhikes to New Hampshire in search of Salinger.
The problems with this movie are numerous, even if—especially if—you're a fan of The Catcher in the Rye. For one, at 19, Neil seems at least five years too old to be so fixated on this novel—even in the Salinger canon, it feels like it's time for him to move on, at least to Franny and Zooey. Even worse: strip away the Salinger stuff, and there's not much to the protagonist—Neil is full of late adolescent angst, but he's not an especially nice, smart, funny or winning guy, he treats everybody terribly, especially T.J., and his delusions of grandeur have led him to think that he's cornered the market on Salinger. (No doubt we're supposed to draw continued comparisons between Neil and Holden Caulfield, but here we don't get the benefit of Salinger's eccentric prose style, making Neil the prep school equivalent of an empty suit.) The script is full of holes and missteps—much crucial information about the characters comes to us way too late, and the story frequently strains credulity, such as when Neil's road trip allegedly merits banner headlines in the New York tabloids. I don't know anything at all about George Pataki's family, but if he's got adolescent kids and one of them goes on a weekend adventure with a boyfriend or girlfriend, there's no way that the New York Post is leading with that.
Undoubtedly for budgetary reasons, the film was shot in Canada, but if you're from the Northeast (as I am) or even just have seen movies shot in New York (as we all have), the fundamental falseness of the project is even more on display. These Canadian locations don't look like Albany, or Pennsylvania, or Manhattan, or New Hampshire—they look like Canada, and it's just one more obstacle working against our suspension of disbelief.
Kanan doesn't do his fellow actors any favors with his dialogue, either, which can be trite, or obvious, or sound like it's being read off of a Hallmark card: "I hate it when people try to hold onto things they've already lost." He's also wallpapered his script with unnecessary and obvious voice-overs, which work only to detract from our empathizing with Neil—the more he talks, the more he seems like one of the phonies that he and Holden revile.
Have you caught on that I didn't much like this movie?
Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Some debris interferes with the video presentation, and it's clear that this wasn't a big-budget picture, but the transfer to DVD looks all right. The palette is a little muted, in part because so much of the movie is shot outdoors in the snow, but black levels are decent.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Nothing special on the audio track, but nothing to complain about, either. Some hiss and ambient noise crop up, and there are some gusts of wind that overwhelm passages of dialogue, especially toward the end of the movie; but it's all readily comprehensible.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Lovely & Amazing, Ten Tiny Love Stories
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Sean Kanan, Rachel Blanchard, Jessica Hammerschlag
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: The screenwriter, leading actress and co-producer are together for a commentary track, but even with the three of them on the microphone, they've got nearly nothing to say. You'll learn that the movie was shot in Montreal, but not much else—to listen to this track is essentially to sit through the movie a second time, which I would not recommend.
The package of three trailers aren't labeled as such, but can be found if you click on the Lions Gate logo on the main menu.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsThere's not a lot of truth in Chasing Holden, and if you're interested in the subject matter, it's worth re-reading The Catcher in the Rye, or re-watching the James Earl Jones scenes from Field of Dreams. But this movie doesn't have much going for it.
Jon Danziger 2002-12-26