Gone are the days of flipping through channels late at night trying to find something of some decency to watch. With the arrival of video streaming, channel surfing has been replaced with the act of browsing through dozens of categories on Netflix and Hulu trying to find the perfect thing to watch. Amazon Prime is no exception. According to Amazon, they offer over 10,000 movies through their Prime subscription service, and yet it can sometimes feel as though it’s impossible to find anything worth watching. I would like to help you find your way through the multitude of options to find what is worth it and what is not. Starting today with the James Ponsoldt film: The End of The Tour.
The End of The Tour follows the true story of Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky as he interviews David Foster Wallace on the last five days of his book tour as he promotes his groundbreaking novel, “The Infinite Jest.” The End of the Tour is not a normal film. By this I mean it doesn’t exactly follow the conventions of modern-day cinema. There are no sweeping-set pieces or long blockbuster sequences. What there are instead are quiet, thought-provoking and immensely-entertaining conversations and subtle and personal character studies. Before you watch this movie ask yourself a question. “Do I get bored during basic conversation?” If the answer is yes, then maybe this movie isn’t for you.
David Lipsky is played by Jesse Eisenberg. He’s good, but nothing we’ve never seen before. If you’ve ever seen a movie with Eisenberg in it, you’re familiar with his jittery acting style. It sometimes appears as if every character he plays suffers from some sort of neurosis, regardless of whether or not it is intended as such in the script. They also always seem to be obstinately arrogant and pretentious leading one to wonder just how blurred the border between actor and character truly is. I don’t know anything about David Lipsky, so I can’t say for certain whether or not he actually exhibits any of those qualities, but it is safe to say that the David Lipsky portrayed in the film, definitely does. I’ve never considered Eisenberg to be a bad actor; he definitely portrays his archetype very well. I just can’t in good faith call him a good actor due to the overwhelming similarities between his roles. He certainly gives a good performance in this movie, regardless of its limited originality. In the beginning, David Lipsky is a struggling writer, disillusioned by his concept that truly great writing is probably not all it’s cracked up to be. Yet once he reads Wallace’s novel, he becomes infatuated with the author. He secretly would like nothing more than to be Wallace, to achieve his level of success, yet once he meets the acclaimed writer, he discovers that he may not want to be him after all. You can definitely see the growth in his character over the course of the film, but that doesn’t really seem like the mark of a great actor, but more of just the mark of an actor. After all, if a clock properly tells the time you don’t call it a superb paragon of a clock, you just call it a clock. Like I previously said, Mr. Eisenberg didn’t bother me, far from it actually, I legitimately enjoyed seeing him onscreen. He just didn’t impress me either.
The man who did impress me however, is Jason Segel, in the role of David Foster Wallace. Many people know Segel for his comedic prowess, be it during his role as Nick on the short-lived but well-beloved show “Freaks and Geeks,” or his long run as Marshall on “How I Met Your Mother.” In the film world, his most famous movie would probably be the 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” I have not seen every film from Mr. Segel, yet I’m certain that I can declare his portrayal of David Foster Wallace as his best performance. The man is incredible. As Wallace he completely becomes another human being. He is an embodiment of idiosyncratic tendencies that truly create a perfectly believable character. When the audience along with Lipsky first meet Wallace in his home in the first act of this film, he presents himself to us with a nervous energy and awkward disconnectedness that lend one the image of a man who’s perpetually trapped with one foot out the door; not wanting to remain a recluse, but not quite ready to face the busyness and imposition of the outside world. When an actor is given the opportunity to portray someone of absolute intelligence, they usually take one of two routes. They either portray a character who is so content with their brilliance they become complacent in it, or they become someone who is so consumed with their genius and their ego that they become border-line autistic, socially-distant weirdos. Jason Segel’s David Foster Wallace is neither. Segel presents to us a man, who is terrified of coming across as another pretentious, holier-than-thou intelligentsia like so many of our pedestal-ed figureheads of genius whose words we worship like sort of secular, scientific gospel. Every sentence out of Segel’s mouth is fueled by this fervid fear, to the point where characters in the movie call him out on it. Somewhere between the second and third act, Lipsky turns to his hero and accuses him of having a facade. At this point in the movie, Wallace has finally warmed up to his interviewer and says to him that if he had ever been behind a facade, it’s long disappeared as he definitely doesn’t have the energy anymore. Segel’s Wallace is definitely putting up a front. The true genius of it though, is that his front isn’t to shield him from the rest of the world. It’s to shield him from himself.
The End of The Tour is one of the most interesting films I’ve seen in a while. It is in essence, one very long, very entertaining, very engaging conversation. Someone could ask, how can you make an entire movie about a single interview? The answer is simple, it turns out. If the original is interesting enough, you simply just focus on the interview and don’t add in any unnecessary conflict. This film would’ve just been simply ruined if halfway through the movie Wallace pulled out a gun or a magic wand. Not only would it have been inauthentic, it would’ve been unnecessary. It is because of the genius of Segel and the true scintillation of the screenplay that this movie works. When the two Davids sit down to have a conversation, be it as trivial a thing as Alanis Morissette (yes that really happens) or something as crushing as suicide, it always seems fresh and engaging, as if it was never actually written, but rather a completely organic depiction of two guys actually talking with one another, as if it were just another interview. Just another incredibly entertaining, incredibly original and fascinating interview. I would tell you what they find themselves talking about, but that would seem like a breach of trust. Every scene with these two gentlemen is directed so nonchalantly, that they really make the audience feel like a fly on the wall, watching two different yet simultaneously similar titans of dialogue interact in an intimate and involving sort of way
If you are the sort of person who gets lost in “those talking movies,” then maybe this film isn’t for you. If you find yourself falling asleep if something doesn’t explode into a fury of vibrant sparks, then maybe you shouldn’t sit down to watch this movie. But if you are the kind of person who, on a semi-regular basis finds themselves absentmindedly people-watching, or if you find yourself writing down quotes you hear because they impact you in a unique way, then The End of The Tour is the perfect film for you. It is the perfect blend of masterful character creation, both on the sides of the filmmakers, and the actors on screen. If nothing else, come to see Jason Segel really shine, and leave with a smile on your face.