This is a two-part review of the movie The End of the Tour by Jeff Bishop and Josh Peterson.
Jeff Bishop: Two year removed from his last Ebertfest triumph, director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) returned last week with The End of the Tour, his adaption of David Lipsky’s 1996 interview/road trip with author David Foster Wallace. Raised in Urbana (his parents are both professors) Wallace remains a folk hero of sorts: the local kid that made it big. He’s as famous for his literary masterpiece (Infinite Jest) as he is for his ongoing battle with depression and ultimate suicide in 2008.
Ponsoldt appears well aware of Wallace’s (Jason Segel) celebrity status, and the film’s inclusion at Ebertfest is likely a direct result. He lobs soft balls to the home crowd, and they gleefully served them into the bleachers. The loudest roar of the night came when Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) drives past a “Bloomington” highway sign. When they play Lebron’s biopic in Akron 30 years from now, I expect the audience will react the same way.
No longer hamstrung by his CBS contract, Jason Segel melts into his portrayal of Wallace. It’s billed as Segel’s first venture into dramatic acting, a pivot from recent projects like Sex Tape and Bad Teacher. But make no mistake – Segel routinely delivers laughs, bringing levity to the sad story of a funny man.
Eisenberg is less convincing as Lipsky; he looks like himself trying to play Mark Zuckerberg, trying to play a Rolling Stone reporter. Here’s hoping he doesn’t turn Lex Luther into an awkward, sweatshirt-wearing, word-jumbling mess in next year’s Batman v Superman.
Here at buzz, we write silly pop culture articles that no one besides our parents (love you mom) puts much stake in, or probably even reads. Yet these 300 words took an embarrassingly long amount of time, and that doesn’t include the hellfire that is the revision process.
It’s equal parts comforting and harrowing watching two writers near the apex of their profession struggle with the same narcissistic insecurities that plague even those of us writing for our college magazine. Put two writers in a room, they’ll take off their pants and have a wit-measuring contest. Just hope it isn’t chilly.
Josh Peterson: An aspect of The End of the Tour that not many people are going to talk about, but should be recognized, is the quiet beauty of Ponsoldt’s visual choices. He strives to put his viewers within the scene, accomplishing this with hand-held camera work and natural lighting. Even on the enormous screen of the Virginia, watching this movie I was struck by how grounded I felt, how easy it was to lose myself in the conversations between Lipsky and Wallace, as if I were in the room with them and everything was happening right in front of me.
Jason Segel is essential to this film – without him it would lack any personality or momentum. The thing about artists, be they actors or writers, is that there is an aspect of alienation that comes with the territory of what they do. This story at its core is about the fears of a man who just wanted to be perceived as a normal guy, when the entire world wanted him to be something more than that. After Segel’s run on “How I Met Your Mother”, I came away thinking that he probably didn’t have to dig very deep to be able to understand Wallace. Maybe that’s why Eisenberg is so unconvincing as Lipsky – it’s difficult to summon any bitterness towards Wallace or his intelligence, and much easier to appreciate the sadness of his solitude.
Having never read Wallace, it was difficult to know whether to credit the biopic or the man himself with the casual but brilliant insights that Segel delivers from underneath his bandana. I’m inclined towards the latter, which creates a conundrum when I try to put into words how I felt about this film. On one hand, I could sense how bowled over a younger, more impressionable version of myself would’ve been by this introduction to Wallace and his genius. But I also felt the conflict between the writers was forced, in part due to the film being too short and poorly paced, and also because of the seeming lack of motivation behind Lipsky’s narcissism. Despite these flaws, this will be a lot of peoples’ favorite film of the year and I understand why. The portrayal of Wallace manages to capture what so many other films fail to: that depression isn’t always best represented by dark clouds and sad songs, but rather as a scratching insecurity on a life that is otherwise beautiful.