End of the Tour seems like a film that will go underappreciated for a large set of reasons. From a distance, the story is about this interview Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) did with acclaimed author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal). There’s no big moment or intense sequence, no sex or violence, from start to finish End of the Tour is a conversation about a variety of topics between two fascinating people. The simplicity and the seemingly mundane storyline will turn off a lot of people. However, those who accept what the film is going for and try to give it a chance will be rewarded with a complex character study complete with a fantastic turn from Jason Segal and an enriching screenplay that will give you plenty to explore and chew on during and after the film.
The storyline is give or take what I said above. After the suicide of beloved author David Foster Wallace in 2008, writer David Lipsky reflects on an interview he did with Wallace for Rolling Stone Magazine in 1996. As the title suggests, Lipsky is talking with Wallace on the last stop of his book tour for Infinite Jest. Lipsky receives a look into the private and more personal aspects of Wallace’s life and Wallace slowly begins to learn more about Lipsky as well throughout the trip. They discuss art, creativity, sexuality and fame among other things throughout their five days together.
I will admit first off to never having read anything from the two authors that are featured in the movie. I can’t speak for how well the film captures Wallace because he’s a person I knew very little about going in. Regardless, Jason Segal gives an outstanding performance here. Jesse Eisenberg is great here as David Lipsky but it’s very much the type of part he usually plays and I wouldn’t call it a part that stands above all the other things he’s done before this. It’s Segal who shines brightly here as the humble, eccentric David Foster Wallace. I’ve seen Segal do a great job in comedies before this but this feels like the first time where we’re getting to see Segal play a meaty role. This is the first time I can truly see him as more than the admittedly charming lead of an Aptow style comedy. The performance and the screenplay do a near perfect job of capturing this guy who’s both absolutely brilliant and yet honest and approachable at the same time. David Foster Wallace isn’t presented as this perfect, godly man who is giving constant wise advice to the other main character. The movie makes sure that they show him for his strengths through his observations of life but the film also captures his insecurities and his vices that make him far from a holy sage. This beauty of Segal’s performance isn’t in these loud, flashy moments but in these quiet scenes where he gets to show the man as this real person who could be funny or sad or wrong or egotistical. On the last night at his house, Wallace gets to the core of what scares him in life and it’s hard not to be taken by the grace and warmth with which Segal handles the scene.
Though he pales in comparison to the other lead, Jesse Eisenberg as I mentioned above is also doing great work here as this also quite intelligent writer who is also a little jealous of the talents and the fame that Wallace has received. The role of a neurotic, cynical writer is the part that Eisenberg was clearly born to play as he sinks into the character with the ease of a new pair of socks. The movie does a great job of making sure that David isn’t overshadowed by the other David. Through and through, this film is about the conversation between these people and even though one of them is more famous and well known than the other, they are both highly engaging characters with fascinating looks on life. Even though one of the roles is more challenging and big than the other, both of the leads did a great job bringing to life these two real people and adding sincerity and understanding to their dialogue. This is one of those movies where the leads need to be perfect or the whole film falls apart. It’s because of this that I think both of these actors deserve massive credit for how they tackled the screenplay.
The substance of the script is both simple and challenging to explain. The film contains such a small story yet it in its hour and forty minutes it has a lot to say about human nature. The relationship between these two characters in fascinating as one seeks what the other doesn’t want. Lipsky wants his books to be famous and he wants people to know who he is but Wallace has gained what Lipsky wants and yet it terrifies him to no end. Throughout the film, he’s shown as this usually very private person who tries to keep hidden these aspects about his daily life from the media. He sees his “fans” as well intentioned people who he’s often uncomfortable being around. He tries to juggle his fame with his very down to earth job teaching at a university. He seeks these hometown moments like watching Broken Arrow and taking care of his dogs rather than embracing the success of his books. He believes that this fame will put more pressure on him for his next books and it’ll lead him to eventual ruin. This fear is that much more affecting and haunting due to his eventual suicide 12 years later. This aspect fascinates director James Ponsoldt and it could be seen as the true core of the relationship between the two Davids.
There are several different areas that these two bring up throughout the tour. There’s a great scene where Wallace explains his fears of the things pornography will eventually allows people to do in terms of their relationships with others. Besides the idea of fame, the film is also a lot about what makes people want to write and what drives their work. The film presents the ways Wallace approaches his work as well as how he wants other to see his work and you also get a great look into journalism and how Lipsky is viewing what he is creating with the interview between them. There’s this somewhat random yet surprisingly intimate moment near the end where Lipsky privately records to himself the different small little quirks of Wallace’s house. There are multiple times where Lipsky and Wallace argue about something yet it never feels fake or planted there to add tension to the story. They have different opinions and share them to each other and then they accept and understand them the way you would in an actual debate.
I make the film sound like just a profound conversation after another profound conversation but the film actually works because it’s nothing like that. There are certainly scenes where they argue about these heavy topics but there are an equal amount of moments where they are discussing very natural, often quite humorous things from Wallace’s attraction to Alanis Morissette to their heavy appreciation of Die Hard, its personal little sequences like these that keep the film human and watchable.
When you look at what the basic outline of the movie is, it’s a miracle that this didn’t come off as more arrogant or boring. But through the talents of the leads as well as the screenplay, this film manages to be both darkly contemplative and charmingly natural. The film is as much about hidden truths of the universe as it is about the small comforts of Wallace’s snowy little home in Illinois. End of the Tour is certainly restrained by the small scale of its story but the directors and writers and the actors make the most of every minute to create something that is poignant and entertaining.
Release Date: 7/31/2015
Cast: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Chlumsky, Mamie Gummer and Joan Cusack
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Screenplay by: Donald Margulies
Based on the Book by: David Lipsky