Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Joan Cusack
Directed by: James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”)
Written by: Donald Margulies (debut)
More than a simple heartfelt tribute to someone who is considered by many as one of this generation’s greatest writers, “The End of the Tour” really wants to understand what exactly was going on in the head of late novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) during the pinnacle of his career when he wrote his epic novel Infinite Jest in the mid-90s. It’s an answer director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”) and his former college professor and first-time screenwriter Donald Margulies are ultimately unable to offer audiences, but should still be commended for crafting a fascinating and personal character without doing what most films of this nature can sometimes do and turn its main subject into a sacred idol. We may not get any answers from “The End of the Tour,” but with a personality as complex as Wallace’s, it’s difficult to know where the talent and the tortured soul begin and end. Or if one can even exist without the other.
Featuring Segel as Wallace during a five-day-long interview session on the last leg of his Infinite Jest book tour with Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), “The End of the Tour” pits writer versus writer in an intimate retelling of what Lipsky wrote in his own book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which was published two years after Wallace committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46. Wallace’s death bookends the film as we watch Eisenberg’s Lipsky receive news of Wallace’s suicide and immediately goes into his closet to retrieve the box of recordings of their five-day-long interview, an interview that never actually saw the light of day at Rolling Stone.
With Lipsky’s book, and now with Ponsoldt’s film, fans of Wallace’s writing can get a sense of who Wallace was depending on whether or not you believe Lipsky’s and Segel’s versions of the beloved author are something you consider authentic. While some may argue that Segel does not present a true representation of who Wallace was (read The Guardian‘s review by Wallace’s friend Glenn Kenny), he does create a character with enough depth and interesting perspective to care for him as a real person. What is even more thought-provoking, however, is the dynamic between Segel and Eisenberg as the two men push and pull each other into uncomfortable and emotional corners that neither probably though they would find themselves in when their interview first begins. Think of it as conversational theater.