A Supposedly Unwarranted Film I'll Be Seeing Soon Again
by Andrew Saladino
'The End of the Tour': [insert something witty about security blankets]
Boy howdy, what a film. What a trip. What a conversation. Here, in James Ponsoldt's 'The End of the Tour' we have a quiet and gentle film about the innumerable thoughts hidden away from sight, just behind the walls everyone of us constructs. It is, on one hand, a film about the anguish of genius. On the other, it is about the inherently American Average Joe. And on the other hand (yes, I have three), it is about a pre-9/11, pre-Facebook, pre-Netflix, middle-nineties world of post-modern lit in its heyday. All of these hands are tied up neatly in the occasionally Amadeus-Salieri-esque relationship (or friendship?) between David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky, the latter who travels to the midwest for a five-day conversation he plans to write about for Rolling Stone.
Jason Segel is Wallace, and his is a great performance. Not because he looks or sounds like Wallace, but because he captures Wallace's essence- the way he walked and moved and shifted uncomfortably, the goofy smile when he'd get real excited, the wide-eyed curiosity, it's all there. And never for a moment is it parody. It is simply Wallace. Jesse Eisenberg is Lipsky, and his is also a great performance. It is the less showy of the two, and it will certainly be forgotten by all the major awards, but it is stubborn and transfixed and frustrated and even gentle- it feels as real as ever.
'Tour' is directed by James Ponsoldt, whose 'The Spectacular Now' I've really warmed to, and scripted by playwright Donald Margulies from Lipsky's book 'Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself'. The two have crafted an endlessly watchable tete-a-tete with aching emotional confusion. I was impressed even more that when its story takes a dip into the melodramatic it is done with such careful grace and not a hint of artificiality. I know I keep saying the same thing over and over. The film just simply feels real. It's the best thing I can say, really.
I wonder how those unfamiliar with Wallace will react to the film. 'Tour' speaks to a cornucopia of chewable ideas, some highly intellectual, most of a grad school psyche, all belonging to the wandering human spirit-- if you don't leave the theater with some sense of rush to get back to that novel you were writing in your undergrad, or to conquer a 900-page epic, or to just smoke a cigarette and look out the window longingly, then I surely don't know what film you were watching- but it's, of course, not really about Wallace. It's about so much more. It helps that there's little name-dropping in terms of his work outside 'Infinite Jest', and but snippets of his actual prose heard. I'm a recent-convert to the church of DFW and like other congregation members, there's a joy in simply listening to what Wallace might have and probably did say. For others, I think there is still much to be found, but ultimately I really cannot say.
Since its announcement, 'Tour' has been plagued with ill, including and especially by Wallace's literary estate which publicly opposed the film. That's understandable, to a certain degree. If Wallace were still living, I doubt he'd allow his words and image to be the basis for a movie. But here's the thing.
I doubt most people worthy of having someone else step inside their shoes for two cinematic hours would really desire it. Wallace is now undoubtedly a part of history, and history is an open book. And I think it would be a disservice to treat him as anything other than what he was. What he was, of course, was a man like any other. That is not praise or criticism. It is fact. It would be unwarranted and inappropriate to treat him as anything different. The film and its makers know that, and they have treated the on-screen Wallace with dignity, integrity, honesty, and a bunch of other two-dollar words. I enjoyed every moment, and it is assuredly one of the best of the year.
**** (four stars out of four)
'The End of the Tour'. Directed by James Ponsoldt. 106 min. Starring Jason Segel, Jessie Eisenberg, Joan Cusack, Mammie Gummer, Mickey Summer, Ron Livingston, Anna Chlumsky. Rated R (a sprinkling of four-letter words)