The End Of The Tour

David Foster Wallace was an author you either lauded for being brilliant or loathed for being pretentious. His 1996 opus “Infinite Jest” elevated him to the status of literary rockstar overnight and cemented the thousand page novel as a cultural touchstone. This Gen-X J.D. Salinger eventually caught the attention of Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, who accompanied Wallace through the last few days of his book tour for a lengthy interview. Said interview never graced the magazine’s pages, but Lipsky would commemorate the author’s 2008 death with a published account of his experience — and this is where we get “The End Of The Tour.” Based on Lipsky’s book, it’s a film that you’ll either laud as being brilliant or loath for being pretentious. Either way, it deftly channels the spirit of the late great Wallace.

And as his medium, Jason Segel brings the house down. Physical similarities aside, who knew the dude from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “I Love You, Man” could disappear into a role like this? I didn’t. From that first awkward wave to the final bittersweet moments, his Wallace is a disarmingly hypnotic presence uncomfortable with his newfound fame. Clinging to his average joe persona for dear life, the actor’s trademark empathy perfectly meshes with Wallace’s sullen smarts and the results are stunning. Having to rattle off dense dialogue and make it seem casual was tough enough, let alone an attention to mannerisms that a YouTube comparison would ace; not bad for a comedian pretending to be a writer. He might just pretend his way into some Oscar talk.

Jesse Eisenberg is also perfectly casted as Lipsky, the twitchy reporter trying to get his own writing career off the ground. This David has a tough job to do: nab a juicy story from the passive Wallace while fighting off his own jealousy. They eventually begin to bond as friends, yet the actor’s unsettled demeanor constantly keeps those issues front and center. As is the case in real life, the interviewer is never the one being praised; but don’t let that sway you from Eisenberg’s impressive turn.

David Margulies’ script is an uppercut to the conventional biopic format, placing emphasis on the conversations over the actions. Don’t immediately groan if you hate talkie movies, though, because there’s never a moment where the energy falls flat. This is actually a pretty strong candidate for “movie that will change your mind about talkie movies.” Back by James Ponsoldt’s attentive direction, the film’s two hours brush by in the span of a water cooler conversation; to the point where you wish there was more to see (and hear). It’s thought-provoking, it’s sad, it’s hilarious. It’s all things that a good movie should be, and then some. 

I haven’t read “Infinite Jest,” but if it’s anything like “The End Of The Tour,” I’m going out to get a copy right away.

Danilo Castro is a resident of Oro Valley and writer for the Film Noir Archive blog at www.filmnoirarchive.com

 

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