Bet you weren’t expecting this, huh?
For those of you wondering (for some reason), I spent the summer watching many movies, including War Dogs, The Nice Guys, Swiss Army Man, Bourne, Star Trek:Beyond and I of course became addicted to Stranger Things. So why is The End of the Tour, which came out a year ago, being reviewed and not the other ones?
Because screw you, that’s why.
The End of the Tour is an indie film based off David Lipsky’s memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which tells the story of the five days he spent interviewing American novelist David Foster Wallace for Rolling Stone in 1996. The movie acts less as a biopic and more of a character study of Wallace.
For the uninitiated, David Foster Wallace is an author famous on the internet for talking about water (link to the video because apparently The Update doesn’t support Youtube video files) and for his second novel, Infinite Jest (1996). Infinite Jest is… Jeez, how do I put this? It’s over 1,000 pages long – and that’s not including the over 300 pages of footnotes (oh yeah, this novel has footnotes) – with some sentences spanning entire pages. It tells the stories of various characters in a fictional dystopian United States and Canada superstate, touching themes of depression, drugs, ultra-Capitalism, art, addiction to low-grade entertainment, Quebec separatism and tennis.
Oh! It’s also considered a masterpiece of literature, revered by many as possibly the best novel in our post-Cold War era.
The movie opens with David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) getting a phone call, informing him David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) has just killed himself. This prompts a flashback to 1996, when Lipsky – having just read and been amazed by Infinite Jest – spent five days interviewing Wallace, following him around, and forming a friendship with “the most talked-about author in the country”.
The story itself is rather sparse, as most of the script is devoted to trying to explore the character of David Foster Wallace himself, as well as the effect he has on Lipsky. Needless to say, this requires good performances from Segel and Eisenberg, as well as a competent script. Does it deliver?
First of all – elephant in the room time – Segel’s acting. Jason Segel is mostly known for starring in quirky indie comedies (oh yeah, and some wildly successful sitcom by the name of How I Met Your Mother), so a turn as one of the most complex creative geniuses in modern history certainly left him with a bit of a challenge.
The problem with portraying David Foster Wallace is that the man wasn’t especially exciting; notably being very quiet and reserved (ok, he did briefly plan to murder a guy in the 90s, but that was just a one-time thing). Segel faced a little bit of a hurdle trying to captivate an audience with the demeanor of a man with a voice designed for a small-town librarian.
Thankfully, Segel captures the intrigue of Wallace with ease, giving off an air of constant mystery and uncertainty. He grabs the viewer’s attention at first with a small giggle or smart comment, but he retains it by offering glimpses into his walled-off inner-workings, which suggest at a depressed, broken, obsessive, lonely genius.
Segel is not alone in his tour-de-force. Eisenberg portrays journalist David Lipsky in a near perfect way, as simultaneously obsessed with Wallace and envious of him. Eisenberg can sell the mind of a man who in one moment is sycophantic towards Wallace’s ability, and in another is yelling at his wife over the phone, jealous at the length of the conversation she just had with Wallace.
Of course, neither of these performances could work without a script to back them up. This is perhaps the trickiest part of the film. It was based off of the real-life five days Lipsky spent with Wallace, and thus, large embellishments wouldn’t fly in this very real story. Indeed, sometimes the script feels held back by the very simple story it tells (eg two dudes talking with each other for five days) but where it falters with story, it makes up for in dialogue.
It’s hard to know for sure which lines were written and which were actually said by Wallace, and that speaks mountains of the dialogue’s quality. Each line uttered by Wallace seems incredibly authentic, giving off musings of his then-modern world, whilst simultaneously revealing another deeply personal insight into his well-guarded private life.
The direction, whether it is fortunate or not, is a lot like the script, in that the overall, take-a-step-back look of it is not the best, but the beauty is in the details. Scene structure and different shots come off as adequate, normal (much like the story), and the pacing can be slow (thought not intolerably), but the close inspection of each frame offers a much clearer picture. For example, one detail shown throughout the film, but never commented upon, is junk food. In the entire film, Wallace is shown to only eat junk food, be it Pop Tarts for breakfast, Burgers for lunch or guzzling down several Pepsis after dinner. This detail, amongst others, does wonders for the characterization of Wallace (and Lipsky, to a certain extent).
By depicting a character as complex as Wallace – simultaneously shy, ego-maniacal, insightful, obsessive – The End of the Tour has cornered itself. It can’t portray any exciting event, only focusing on the reclusive lifestyle of one of the most tortured creatives in the modern era. Fortunately, it exceeds in creating a competent character study, holding the audience’s attention until the very end, creating one of the better indie films in recent years.
The End of the Tour gets a 6/7