Writing about a movie that is about writing is, well, intimidating to say the least. Especially a movie about a writer who is writing about another, clearly better, writer. Which means I am at least the third worst writer tied up in this review…
“The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.'”
I want to start this right off by spoiling the ending (of this review), I give this movie a B on the Movie Slant Rating Scale. Why spill the beans at the beginning? I suppose because I intend to write some very nice and flattering things, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, but it wasn’t objectively ‘that good’ to warrant a B+ or better.
David Foster Wallace is played by Jason Segel, who completely becomes the quirky author. There is no vestigial fragments of ‘Sarah Marshall’ or ‘I Love You Man’ to throw you out of the outstanding performance he delivers. What it has in spades is authenticity, but what he sacrifices is range. The part is written this way, but all the good acting comes in nuance and dedication to the idiosyncratic nature of Wallace. Segel plays it understated and strong, it might be the best he has ever been.
Eisenberg, there in lies another challenge. GQ has a great article that discusses the movie and the writings of Wallace. In that article, in the first paragraph actually, is this line:
“It turns out Jason Segel is great at acting, and Jesse Eisenberg is great at being a douchebag.”
I am unsure how to improve on that statement. Where Segel manages to pull some insight out of the subtle, Eisneberg flops back and forth between being jealous, anxious, and confident in an awkward way that feels like he is just reacting to his screen partner, not acting his own part. Where Wallace seems to have very deep personal and emotional self-awareness, Lipsky comes across as having none at all, save maybe at the very end. Maybe that is the point.
But, as you would want and hope from a movie about a couple of writers spending a few days together, the dialogue is great. If you like small and intimate movies you should enjoy this. If you don’t like a lot of ‘talkie talkie’ in your films, then you will certainly want to nope out of this one. I have not read Infinite Jest, but I did read through some of his essays (thanks to that GQ link) and the dialogue in the movie matches the style of Wallace. A seamless combination of high brow and vulgarity, it is written with copious swearing peppered into long philosophical exposition, and the lines are delivered by Segel with such ease that it all feel entirely appropriate.
By the half way point of this movie I did not want to read Infinite Jest as much as a I wanted to go back in time and share a cup of coffee and a smoke with Wallace and just listen to him go on about something esoteric like how to be genuine if the perception is that your genuine is an act, or tear down my presuppositions on junk food and masturbation.
I didn’t identify with Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lipsky, but I still wanted to be in his shoes to experience life with David Foster Wallace for myself. The tag line for this movie is ‘imagine the greatest conversation you ever had’, and I think that sums this one up pretty well.
One final note, this movie was distributed by A24, who in 2015 also had Room, Ex Machina, Slow West, and Amy. So yea, good year for them.
The End of the Tour is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Did you see it? Have you ever read Infinite Jest? Let me know what you think about any of it below and let’s keep the conversation going!