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The End of the Tour - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The End of the Tour
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

If your only exposure to Jason Segel is movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) or The Muppets (2011), it can be difficult to imagine him lost in the role of a famous author who died tragically young. Curiously, Segel doesn't have to transform himself all that radically in The End of the Tour, and yet he totally loses himself in the role of David Foster Wallace. He still sounds like Jason Segel in his delivery, but with just the right amount of semi-depressed muting of the sound, combined with the hair and glasses and bandana and general demeanor, he's completely believable as this real-life character.

As the title suggests, we follow along with Wallace at the end of his book tour in support of the massive novel that ultimately defined him, Infinite Jest. I wonder how much more insight would be gained in watching this film if you've read the book -- I have not. I've considered it occasionally over the years, and have always been daunted by its girth, a detail about the book that gets referenced several times in the film. These days, the book is more famous as something that remains unread on the shelves of people who want to appear smarter because they have it, than as the work of a voice that only comes along once in a generation. I think I'll just wait to check it out of the library one day, instead of buying it and worrying about the same kind of perception of affectation that Wallace himself apparently worried about.

The point of view of this film belongs to Rolling Stone reporter and author David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg is very affecting as well, but less able to lose himself in the role; Lipsky still comes across as pretty Eisenbergian. But this is an actor long established as well-suited to this type of movie, where the sole reason to be absorbed is the conversations unspooling onscreen. The closest this movie gets to any actual "action" is when Wallace confronts Lipsky about flirting with one of his friends and stands a little too close to him by a refrigerator.

With few exceptions, pretty much this entire movie is just two people talking. There are brief interludes where Ron Livingston shows up as Lipsky's editor, or Joan Cusack as their escort when they visit Minneapolis, but by and large we just get to know both of these writers as they spend a few days together, getting to know each other. Wallace occasionally expresses deep reservations about how Lipsky might write his article, and more than once Lipsky reminds him, "You agreed to the interview." There's a subtle but interesting exploration of the nature of friendship and how it can or cannot be formed depending on the context. It seems understandable that Wallace might be guarded and wonder how genuine Lipsky is being with him, as opposed to playing him for the sake of good copy.

But it seems they get more intimate than a typical subject and interview might usually. Lipsky meets Wallace at his house the day before they are to travel together to his last stops on the tour, and Wallace insists Lipsky sleep in his guest room. That alone, one would think, changes the dynamic.

The End of the Tour is elevated not just by its unusually believable and engaging dialogue, but by steering gently away from typical cinematic formula. This is less a story than a portrait, of Lipsky as well as Wallace. There's no climactic scene here, just the end of a few days in which two guys who struggle between self-consciousness and ego are in turn wary of each other and appreciative of each other. Wallace is open about certain social anxieties and Lipsky suspects he's feigning modesty.

David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008, and that's where the film begins, with Lipsky getting that news. Director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) seamlessly transitions to the time of the interview by having Lipsky dig through storage and find his tape recorder, and many recordings of their conversations twelve years earlier. By the end of the film, even if you haven't read any David Foster Wallace (as I haven't), the sense of loss is keenly felt. It's still not quite as sad as it sounds; maybe a little more on the wistful side. The conversations themselves, while occasionally heavy, are genuinely fun to experience. The End of the Tour may be about a man who met a tragic end, but it's a telling of a trip he took many years earlier, full of worry as well as potential, and it's a nice ride to go on with them.

Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel are writers suppressing ego with self-consciousness in THE END OF THE TOUR.

Overall: A-
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