Mrs. Linda Hogan
For many at Woodberry Forest School, the fall 2014 filming of Coming Through the Rye, an independent film largely made here on campus, meant disruption to routine, missed classes, and brushes with Hollywood. With the majority of Woodberry students serving as extras during scenes in St. Andrew’s Chapel and Bowman Gray Auditorium and a few garnering speaking roles, everyone got valuable insight about what goes into the production of a movie. We don’t view films and television the same way we used to now that we’ve seen what happens behind the scenes.
But how was the movie? I was among a Woodberry group that attended a screening on November 5, 2015, at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville.
Because it was filmed on campus, I was primed to love it. Woodberry itself gave a stellar performance. The movie opened with aerial shots of our campus and clever special effects, and Robertson Lake was made magical through cinematography. Thanks to the film, many who might never have occasion to visit our campus will see its timeless beauty.
Woodberry students in the background made convincing 60s-era schoolboys, and those teachers and students with larger parts proved indistinguishable from the professionals they appeared alongside. Dr. David Smith, Mr. Brent Cirves, and Mr. Matthew Keating were among the teachers who got plenty of screen time. And Cole Lenfest ’14, Christian Magnani ’14, Jared Thalwitz ’15, and David Willis ’15 had prominent roles, as well. Many, many others could be spotted in various scenes and what seemed like a roster of the entire student body scrolled by during the final credits.
The script, which tells the story of Jamie Schwartz, a fictionalized version of the film’s writer and director James Sadwith, was sweet and compelling, if a little dated in some of its assumptions. Played by Alex Wolff, the lead character identifies with Holden Caulfield when he reads J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye so much that he writes a play based on the novel to be produced as his senior English project. He runs away from his boarding school, Crampton Prep, to get the reclusive author’s blessing on his play, meanwhile facing his own losses and falling in love with a local girl.
Wolff’s portrayal of Jamie did not have the quality of vulnerability that the role called for. Bullied by football players and imagining that his play would hit Broadway, Wolff’s Jamie needed to be more believable as a dreamer and a target. It was Jamie’s traveling companion, Deedee, played by the unconventionally lovely Stefania Owen, who was the movie’s high point. Her smile delighted every time she showed it, and her earnest attraction to Jamie portrayed an honest view of teen love. When Jamie tells Deedee about his surprisingly intense friendships at Crampton, she delivers the screenplay’s most memorable line, “Boys’ boarding schools must have a lotta weird love and a whole lotta freaking out.”
That Coming Through the Rye is almost entirely based on its author’s improbable but real experience of successfully meeting J.D. Salinger, played by Chris Cooper, is perhaps the movie’s most surprising truth. The story is told with beautiful cinematography and a great score. It is not a perfect movie, but it is entertaining enough to be enjoyable. It may even prompt some reflection on the kinds of love we experience and what each demands from us: the bond between brothers and friendship with a boarding school classmate.