The End of the Tour (2015) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language including some sexual references
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer, Mickey Sumner, Anna Chlumsky, Ron Livingston
Director: James Ponsoldt
Screenplay: Donald Margulies (based on the book, "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself" by David Lipsky)
Review published August 17, 2015
The End of the Tour follows five days shared between acclaimed author David Foster Wallace (Segel, Sex Tape) and Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Eisenberg, Rio 2) as the latter man is interviewing the former in the final days of his book tour for his smash critical and surprise commercial success, "Infinite Jest", in 1996. The film draws much of its material from Lipsky's 2010 book, which would itself garner some acclaim, "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself", featuring transcripts of the actual interview material with Wallace. The Rolling Stone article would never be written, it turns out).
After a prologue featuring Lipsky hearing the news of David Foster Wallace's suicide in 2008, we flash back to 1996 for most of the duration, as the journalist travels to Wallace's home on the outskirts of Bloomington, Illinois for a few days before they head out to the final stop in Minneapolis, trying to pick his brain without being too pushy. The reserved author is very tight-lipped about things that are too personal in nature, which leads to a good deal of testiness on Wallace's part. Voids exist, as Lipsky begins to think that perhaps Wallace is trying to shape his image for the purpose of the interview and not be forthcoming about who he really is and what he believes, leading to some push back, and forcing the reporter to put together some insights based on the items Wallace keeps around his house.
James Ponseldt (The Spectacular Now, Smashed) directs this Donald Margulies (Collected Stories, Dinner with Friends) adaptation of Pinsky's memoir. As it is mostly culled from a series of day-long conversations between the two men, it's a talky film, but absorbing as a character study of two very smart writers, who compare, contrast, and compete with each other constantly, with each trying to size themselves up against the other in understated ways. The subjects they discuss, both philosophical and banal (activities include sing-alongs to Alanis Morrissette and a screening of the dumb action flick, Broken Arrow), relate to both of their views on life, relationships, addictions, depression and loneliness, and the onset of celebrity status, and whether the experience of success will alter Wallace's particular talent, and if that alteration will be for the better or for the worse.
The interview is difficult for Lipsky, as he not only envies Wallace for the success he has always dreamed about, but he comes to find the author quite sympathetic and sometimes shockingly honest when he allows himself to let his natural guard down. Lipsky's editor at Rolling Stone wants him to press Wallace like a journalist and stop trying to be his friend, but clearly, Lipsky is affected by the experience of being in Wallace's presence especially as he represents all of the things he is trying to become, career-wise, and opening up perspectives in his own life on how he should lead it through the words of an author he looks up to. Wallace seems to come across as a normal guy, though Lipsky thinks that's the humble persona he wants to portray, and he really does know he's more gifted than most of his generation. Both adversarial men let their guards down from time to time, leading to tension of the egos they both deny having, while they recoil back into their positions of journalist and interviewee instead of casual peers.
Ponseldt gets some solid performances by the lead actors, with both giving finely nuanced portrayals of their intended subjects. For two authors, it's perhaps ironic that most of the character touches come through what's unsaid, read mostly in the facial expressions or body language of the two men joined at the hip for a few days, getting through an interview that is greeted by its subject with the same kind of reticence that one might give to a tedious series of medical examinations. Jesse Eisenberg has given terrific jitter-filled performances in the past, so perhaps it's not a surprise for him to do so again, but Jason Segel, primarily known for goofy bromances and raunchy comedies, is mesmerizing as the fascinating Wallace, in a finessed, idiosyncratic portrayal that's ostensibly genial on the surface but perpetually piqued underneath, sometimes to the point of petulance.
The End of the Tour isn't trying to be a be-all, end-all biography on the enigmatic David Foster Wallace so much as try to give us a snapshot of the deeply talented, yet deeply lonely and insecure, author at the pinnacle of his success and adulation. By zooming in to capture a brief few moments, it allows us to examine with more rich detail than a broad sweep of a man's life ever could, and get a few nuggets of wisdom, inspiration, and caution along the way. Even with the closer look, The End of the Tour remains a thoughtful and complex work, saying so much thematically, yet there's a feeling that there could be so much more said, if only there were more time for further exploration.
©2015 Vince Leo