The End of the Tour

Disclaimer: I’m writing this review without having read any of David Foster Wallace’s work. I own two copies of Infinite Jest because it’s the sort of book (or I’m the sort of person…) that people give me as a present. But I’ve always been worried that he’s too much of a pretentious/manbaby/beta male sort of college-bloke writer for me to really engage with. So that’s the background, here’s the review in light of that.

The End of the Tour is an unusual movie, in so much as it’s essentially the dramatisation of a Rolling Stone interview. I don’t know how iconic David Lipsky’s interview was at the time, but it seems very much a footnote in the annals of DFW lore these days (or maybe that’s just my virginal gaze talking again). The movie version of said interview is – like the interview itself, presumably – a two-hander conducted between Jesse Eisenberg’s Lipsky and Jason Segal’s Wallace. But unlike a movie like Frost/Nixon, which is very concerned with both the overarching narrative of the interviewee/interviewer’s life and the events around the margins of the interview, The End of the Tour is pretty single-minded in its devotion to the five days that Lipsky and Wallace spent together. As such, the movie has no real structure (save for some bookending whose logic I acknowledge without thinking that it was necessary) and really constitutes a series of conversations that, perhaps, elucidate some broader knowledge about writers and writing.

The fact that the movie works is, I think, largely due to Segal. Eisenberg is a good dramatic actor – an Academy Award nominee in fact – and you expect him to be good as Lipsky (and he is). But Segal doesn’t have the same track record, and the Wallace role is a really tricky one to manage without veering into pastiche (especially if, like Segal, you’re very well known for your own schtick). The fact that Segal immerses not just himself but also the viewer into the character of Wallace is the film’s primary accomplishment. It allows the viewer to be sucked in to the drama of a conversation between two writers, and then, once that’s achieved, you can let the voyeuristic experience wash over you.

The film doesn’t do anything formally radical (which, given its structure, is maybe a shame) but it does bring two great performances to the table, along with a fantastic, funny script and a sense of ambiguous purpose that runs in accordance with what Wallace tries to express in the interview. I’ve long been ambivalent about reading the copies of Infinite Jest that I have on my bookshelf, but I have a renewed interest in it now. Segal’s Wallace comes across as smart, funny, insecure and not nearly as pretentious as his reputation would have you believe (though maybe this is a refashioning for the movie, who can tell?). And it inflects him with a creative touch – something like our notion of ‘genius’, for wont of a more nuanced term – that feels genuine, real and interesting. So if David Foster Wallace is the proto-beta male, the bandana wearing slacker at the back of your comparative lit class, that’s not how the movie sees him. He’s much more likeable, much more troubled.

An excellent two-hand comedy-drama, that fashions a magazine interview into a deeply engaging feature film. Segal and Eisenberg kill it and the film does almost nothing wrong, without taking too many risks. But the solidity of the craftsmanship doesn’t obscure the fact that this is a compellingly literate acting feat. 

endofthetourposter
4
Title: The End of the Tour
Director : James Ponsoldt
Starring: Jason Segal, Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Chlumsky, almost no one else
Running Time: Not too long, maybe 80-90 mins?
Certificate: I'd guess 15

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