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▶︎ My New York Year is in UK cinemas.
A young writer with serious literary ambitions takes a job tangentially related to her interests, working for a tyrannical woman in an intimidatingly opaque sector of publishing. Although she eventually wins respect in this new world, she realises that her dreams lie elsewhere.
The plot of My New York Year is uncannily close to the storyline of The Devil Wears Prada, and why not? Both are based on books in which writers spin a yarn out of an early-career interregnum. This film is based on a memoir by Joanna Rakoff, and instead of the world of high fashion, it’s high literature. In 1995 Rakoff, played here by Margaret Qualley, took a job at the literary agency that represented J.D. Salinger, and her job involved intercepting, repelling and destroying the letters sent to him by reclusive fans.
As such, My New York Year also shares some DNA with Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? in its evocation of 1990s literary New York. We’re a rung up the ladder here, in a world replete with martini lunches, a horror of the internet and appearances by Rachel Cusk and Judy Blume – not to mention Salinger himself, though his face is tastefully averted from the lens. Anyone in that scene would be bound to note, with some derision, that this film has had its title modified for mass appeal. It opened the Berlinale in 2020 as My Salinger Year, but perhaps the author of The Catcher in the Rye doesn’t enjoy the name recognition he once did.
This is not a film to be sneered at, though. Directed with a certain tenderness but no sentimentality by Québecois filmmaker Philippe Falardeau, Rakoff’s story rises smartly above authorial coming-of-age cliché. Punchy editing in the opening sequence creates the bumpy sensation of landing one’s feet in the big city; an impromptu dance fantasy in the Waldorf feels delightfully unforced.
Qualley is an immensely likeable and thoughtful lead, and Sigourney Weaver is a joy as her imperious boss Margaret, wisely resisting the temptation to overplay her charismatic character. Douglas Booth, as Rakoff’s commie New York boyfriend Don, likewise gives a turn at least two notches less grating than the role could accommodate. It’s technically a spoiler to reveal that both Don and the novel he’s writing turn out to be abysmal – but, from his first entrance, it’s hardly a surprise.
My New York Year sidesteps the slush pile, and offers a thoughtful study of a young woman realising she must shed her responsibilities to other writers in order to put her own words on the page.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? first look: building sympathy for a literary forgerCan You Ever Forgive Me? first look: building sympathy for a literary forger
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Sight & Sound June 2021
In our current issue, Mark Kermode and Prano Bailey–Bond talk Censor and the 80s British censorship massacre. Read if you dare! Plus the history of ‘video nasties’, Kelly Reichardt on First Cow, Suzanne Lindon’s Spring Blossom, the sprawling brilliance of Robert Altman’s Nashville, and vintage Jack Nicholson. Available in print and digitally.Find out more and get a copy