Film Review – When You Finish Saving the World

When You Finish Saving the World

When You Finish Saving the World

There’s a difference between good characters that have weaknesses and those that are simply obnoxious. That is the inherent issue with Jesse Eisenberg’s writing and directing debut, When You Finish Saving the World (2022). Even the title has a condescending ring to it, in the way a parent will tell their kid to get over themselves and go do chores. The problem is that both of our protagonists are self-centered – stuck within their own personal bubbles. This is not a coming-of-age story where people stumble through their lives to emerge smarter and wiser. In fact, I would posit that these characters don’t learn anything other than they are more alike than they realize. 

In terms of style, Eisenberg (with Benjamin Loeb’s cinematography) captures the visuals with a stripped down, naturalistic tone. Yellows and browns are displayed in every scene – giving off an autumnal, slightly chilly vibe. The approach isn’t too unlike other coming-of-age stories involving high school teens, along the likes of Juno (2007) and The Edge of Seventeen (2016). However, where those examples have moments of levity, Eisenberg infuses his work with a darker undercurrent. His subjects are absorbed only in themselves, unable to see the world if it doesn’t affect their own standing in it. As one character points out, “I’m surrounded by narcissists.” “What does that make you?” someone asks, to which they reply, “Unlucky.”


Our two main characters are Evelyn (Julianne Moore) and her teenage son, Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard). Evelyn works for a shelter home for displaced families. Her latest effort involves providing support for Angie (Eleonore Hendricks) and her son, Kyle (Billy Bryk). Ziggy is a musician who performs online to thousands of followers – a point he brags about incessantly. Ziggy has a crush on his classmate, Lila (Alisha Boe), but is intimidated by her strong political views. The narrative follows Evelyn and Ziggy simultaneously, as they insert themselves further into their own plots, stepping over boundaries, and getting in over their heads.

Evelyn and Ziggy are two peas of the same pod, in how each of their goals are either unobtainable, or unrealistic. The irony is that they could easily help one another but refuse to do so. Ziggy could give Evelyn an insight on what it’s like to be a teenager in the modern day, giving a better perspective for Kyle and Angie’s plight. On the flip side, Evelyn is political herself, and could help Ziggy better understand world issues and thus get in Lila’s good graces. But for some reason, the two can’t stand being together – one might argue that they loath each other. When Ziggy asks Evelyn to drive him to school, she abandons him for taking too long to get ready. When he asks her for topics to talk about with Lila, she shuts him down, telling him to do the research himself. Ziggy places an enormous, flashing red light outside of his door to warn his family not to disturb him while he is live streaming. Whenever a topic is discussed (whether political or otherwise), Ziggy’s first instinct is to figure out how to monetize it for his own benefit. 

Being likeable is not a requirement for us to engage with characters, but at the very least, they need to be interesting. That is the main shortcoming here. Eisenberg’s writing paints Evelyn and Ziggy in broad strokes – giving them a starting point and meandering to an incomplete resolution. The more I got to know these characters, the less invested I became. At a certain point I simply stopped caring whether Ziggy would win over his high school crush or if Evelyn’s constant interfering would have an effect on Kyle and Angie. They act like compassionate people with real concern for others, but underneath are operating simply for themselves. This is somewhat understandable for Ziggy. As a teen, the smallest inconvenience can feel like the world is ending. That is not the case for Evelyn. For someone who runs a shelter and has interacted with plenty of people in need, her involvement with Angie and (especially) Kyle does not make sense.


Family dysfunction has been around almost as long as movies have, but When You Finish Saving the World has a meanness that is off putting. The ways in which Evelyn and Ziggy speak and argue borders on cruel. She points out how he was once sweet and innocent as a child, and how that went away when he got older. He openly cusses her out and has a temper tantrum over her lack of interest in him. A pivotal moment comes during an argument the two have at the dinner table. The verbal fireworks reach a fever pitch, and it’s a testament to Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard’s abilities that they keep the exchange somewhat grounded. However, the scene comes off exaggerated. Eisenberg’s writing and direction has good instincts, but the execution isn’t quite there. The back and forth felt forced rather than genuine or authentic. 

Eisenberg tries to reconcile this relationship by finding a middle ground, but by then it is too little, too late. Instead of a mother and son working through their problems to find empathy, the narrative mishandles their relationship. Eisenberg creates a tangible, visually appealing environment but fills it with resentment and jealousy. Evelyn and Ziggy are two souls whose fates are conjoined by their pride. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two end up stuck together, destined to bicker forever.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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