Rolling Stone journalist and novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) embarks on a journey to meet and interview renowned author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) in the wake of the release of his seminal novel Infinite Jest. In the resulting interviews, Lipsky attempts to unravel the enigmatic and reclusive Wallace.
There’s a moment at the beginning of The End of the Tour where Eisenberg’s Lipsky is reading a review for David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest to his partner Sarah (Anna Chlumsky). As he bitterly recites the effusive review, and marvelling at the praise that’s in only the opening paragraphs, she poses a question. “What if it’s really that good?” In that fraction of a second, there’s a seismic shift of emotions across Eisenberg’s face that really sets the tone for the exploration of The End of The Tour.
Eisenberg’s Lipsky has this preconceived notion of what the artist behind this novel must be like; and when he comes face to face with Segel’s Wallace, you can see that it’s a constant battle. On the one hand, you have a reclusive and modest living English professor in Middle America, refusing to be sold on these accusations of genius, and yet there’s clearly a profundity in the work. Ponsoldt and Eisenberg craft Lipsky with the right amount of desperation that informs his curiosity and also results in his inadvertent attempts to find and replicate Wallace’s cadence. Eisenberg brings Lipsky to life with that split second juke between cordial and contempt. Lipsky is a man at war with himself. While Segel’s Wallace is hyper-aware of the interviewer and subject relationship, and spends as much time agonising about the potential for his “portrayal” in this interview as he does being open to lines of inquisition about the novel. Segel does some of his best work as Wallace, nestling in to a dissatisfaction and intelligence that refuses to be lured by the shiny lights of fame. He’s crusading against any potential glamour changing who he is. His content derives from his life being within the realms of his control.
Director James Ponsoldt makes no bones about attempting to glamorise any part of the meeting of minds; The End of the Tour, as it did in actuality, occurs in car rides, convenience stores, Wallace’s friends kitchens and sprawled on the couch in Wallace’s messy lounge room. His intent is to create comfortable spaces for these two performers to encounter and unpack each other. Screen-writer Donald Margulies has the difficult task of not only adapting Lipsky’s novel but also the recorded conversations from the original interview. Marguilies wrangles the material in such a way that so much of how you come to understand who these characters are happens in the activities and conversations on the outskirts of what you’d consider to be the interview. Instead of the writing process or the narrative intent of the novel, the inane details of simple pleasures like junk food become the stage where you feel like you’re avoiding the shell of Wallace’s defence. Ultimately there’s dissatisfaction with the living, breathing, flawed and peculiar person often seated in front of Lipsky.
The End of the Tour will get you to re-evaluate accomplishment, fame, writing, and most importantly, candy combinations for maximum satisfaction.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Written by: Donald Margulies based on the book by David Lipsky “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself”)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Anna Chlumsky, Mamie Gummer, Joan Cusack
Jesse Eisenberg … David Lipsky
Anna Chlumsky … Sarah
Mamie Gummer … Julie
Jason Segel … David Foster Wallace
Joan Cusack … Patty