In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Despite being the ultimate ‘trophy’ book, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest manages to rise above any accusations of pretension simply by being exactly as impressive as its reputation suggests. The person who derides Infinite Jest as faux-intellectualism is usually the same person who thinks The Beatles are overrated – being emptily contrarian because rejecting an 1100 page book is much easier than actually reading it, and then twisting this dismissal into a faux-intellectualism of their own. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just projecting my own intellectual insecurities upon you, the reader. Maybe I read Infinite Jest and pretended to understand it just to be a part of the Cool Kids Club, and now I’m casting shade upon dissent as a way to protect my lie. Maybe I didn’t read it at all. I’ve told you my story, and it’s up to you how you want to perceive that. Luckily for me, I’m just a film reviewer who is nowhere near being called the “Voice of a Generation.”
It’s this kind of three-steps-ahead thinking that plagues voice-of-his-generation, David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour. Wallace has often times been accused of brilliance, and accurately so. But if James Ponsoldt’s film is to be believed, he’s actually a pretty regular guy. Well, at least that’s what he thinks he is, and more importantly what he hopes you will think as well. But what he doesn’t want you to think is that he wants to be perceived as regular, which is a decidedly irregular thing to do.
This conflict is at the heart of many conversations which occur between David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), and that’s mostly what the film is – conversations. Based on an interview between Lipsky and Wallace which occurred over the final five days of the 1996 Infinite Jest book tour, the film feels structurally similar to a podcast, and is just as easily digestible. While Lipsky’s interview never made it to the pages of Rolling Stone as initially intended, he eventually released it as a standalone novel after hearing of Wallace’s suicide. It was his novel, titled Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself which served as the basis for Donald Margulies’ stellar script. This is a biopic, even though it’s totally not.
Both Segel and Eisenberg are fantastic, each offering up some of the their best work. Eisenberg’s Lipsky is all the right shades of cocky, as many writers are, chain smoking and self-assured, but is also so intimidated by the presence of Wallace that the tensions which rise between them feel natural. Eisenberg’s range isn’t always so large, but it’s amazing what he can do within his limitations (his Lex Luthor is going to be incredible, I promise).
Segel really surprises here. He has always been a strong character actor, and is powerfully likable in every role I’ve seen him in, but until The End of the Tour, I’d never seen him completely disappear. While his Wallace isn’t a photocopy of the real man, and it shouldn’t be, Segel captures the essence of the writer so brilliantly that I had to remind myself that this was indeed the same guy who I watched strut around naked in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. A few weeks back I saw a string of trailers each of which touted the lead performance within to be “a revelation” and I joked that it had become the new “give me a pull-quote” term. One of the trailers was for The End of the Tour, and I will happily agree that revelation is the proper term for Jason Segel’s performance.
I will concede that this film would not exist, and would potentially be less interesting had Wallace not gone on to take his own life, but I think it would still be just as entertaining. The clash/bond of egos at the center of the story is relatable to anyone with ambition. If you’ve felt the self-doubt that comes with creation, then there is some wisdom for you contained within. I would love to go revisit this film with a notebook in hand. Heck, if the screenplay is ever published, I’d love to take to it with a highlighter.
Wallace’s family, but for one anonymous member, have separated themselves from the production, concerned that Wallace himself would not have approved. They’re probably right, but the one relative who has seen it had a positive response (according to Ponsoldt), which is as close as we’ll ever get to an endorsement. As a fan of Wallace’s work, I definitely approve of the film. I think it’s the desire to get inside his mind which attracts me to his writing, and The End of the Tour is just another angle through which to do so.
The End of the Tour opens today in Philly area theaters.