Film Review – The End of the Tour
The End of the Tour
Immediate and full disclosure: I have not read Infinite Jest. My brother, who is much smarter than I am, is reading it currently and described it as “very challenging,” allowing me to disregard the notion completely while running into the comforting arms of Stephen King. In truth, I knew next to nothing about prolific author David Foster Wallace before accepting this assignment. Furthermore, I haven’t read the memoir (originally intended as a Rolling Stone article) this entire film centers around. Not for lack of trying, but who has time for snail mail. Am I therefore unqualified to deem The End of the Tour, director James Ponsoldt (Smashed, The Spectacular Now) Wallace biopic, an occasionally insightful and often boring peek into the writer’s mind? Probably, but allow me to make my case.
Jason Segel, as Wallace, is the movie’s true shining star but we’re first introduced to a present-day(ish) David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), the Rolling Stone contributor (and author in his own right) responsible for the article/interview. He learns of Wallace’s untimely suicide and digs up the cassette tape recordings from their interview, triggering the extended flashback that makes up the bulk of the film. As a storytelling device, this seems awfully neat and unnecessary. With a performance as enigmatic and enrapturing as Segel’s in the barrel (we’ll get there), why eat up the surrounding time with padded exposition that could have easily been summed up with a title card? Why cast Veep all-star Anna Chlumsky (as Lipsky’s wife) and give her nothing to do?
Rolling Stone sends Lipsky to bitter-cold Illinois, where he meets Wallace (and his dogs) at his home, and then joins him on the last 5 days of his Infinite Jest book tour. Segel portrays Wallace as a reserved observer, both honored and flummoxed by the admiration initially bestowed upon him by Lipsky. The two build a quick rapport, chain-smoking and driving aimlessly while contemplating life, death and how awesome Die Hard is. Wallace dissects and questions his newfound significance as an artist while Lipsky revels in it. Only eventually do tensions mount and feelings change, but for those first few days Lipsky was a fan first, reporter second. Sort of an Almost Famous for the literary world.
As I mentioned, I know next to nothing about David Foster Wallace. As such, I don’t know how close Segel’s portrayal compares to the man himself. Regardless, I know a transformation when I see one. It took a scene or two to warm to a few of his chosen affectations, but I quickly became absorbed with the performance, even in the movie’s dullest moments. And there are a few of them.
This is a conversation movie. Think My Dinner With Andre but mobile and bathed in cigarette smoke. And, as a conversation movie, I feel it only half exceeds. Perhaps my admitted ignorance of Wallace’s work prevents me from getting the full experience. On the other hand, it’s not as if these conversations are impenetrable. They’re just sometimes tedious.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with actor Jason Segel.