Catching in the Wry

Nine stories about the Salingeresque quality of Gen X cinema

VII. Young master Wes has also taken a fancy to Salinger's notion of rich, egghead life in Manhattan circa who-knows-when. But is that all there is to Salinger? Critic David Elliott wittily described the experience of The Royal Tenenbaums as like "being at a cocktail party where everyone's flipping through old New Yorkers, looking for the cartoons." Indeed, for Wes Anderson, Salinger's oeuvre is a catalog-cum-flipbook given a loving thumbing. The director fills his screen with musty old board games stacked six feet high, and with 1968 paperbacks that have just the right font and just the right post-beach-reading curl at the edges; he gets the wallpaper synched with the pajamas, and makes everyone wear the same damn clothes through the whole movie. But the characters are carbon copies.

VIII. The notion of paying homage is a convenient one for pretentious plagiarists. But Wes Anderson's form of homage does the honored one no favors at all. Salinger's stories aren't pseudo-highbrow reworkings of Eloise, delighting us with the sharp uniforms of the doormen at the Plaza; they're small parables about the possibility of spirituality's existence within our own ridiculous, jargon-filled, ball-game-in-the-background lives. Whatever they are, they aren't the pretext for nostalgia-mad art direction.

IX. Oh, yeah--I almost forgot the other Gen X auteur who shares, in a less obvious way, many traits with J.D. Salinger. This director's works are likewise filled with suburban anecdotal detail, and it's difficult to tell whether they're intended affectionately or viciously. Outsiderdom and authenticity are also of the utmost importance to him--and he, too, is a master of the shocking revelation. The filmmaker, of course, is Todd Solondz (Happiness). But let's not speak his name too loudly: Salinger deserves to live out his last days in peace.

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