Technically, The End of the Tour completes James Pondsoldt’s trilogy about alcoholics because David Foster Wallace is in recovery. That’s a reach though, just because I am Franchise Fred. I’m sure David Foster Wallace proved as interesting a subject for a dramatic film whether he was sober or not.
David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) finds out David Foster Wallace dies in 2008, and recalls his interview with Wallace (Jason Segal) at the end of his Infinite Jest book tour. Actually, The End of the Tour is a sequel to Almost Famous because it is about another Rolling Stone writer getting embedded with a celebrity. Perhaps the third in that trilogy can have Rolling Stone hire me to live with Vin Diesel for a year.
Discussions with Wallace provide a thoughtful and frank analysis of both his work and of humanity in general. It made me want to read Infinite Jest. Some of the incisive questions Lipsky asks give Wallace pause, but he answers them anyway. It gets uncomfortable and these two intelligent people have to keep the peace for the remainder of the trip and the story.
There is humor in the film’s observations, such as a phone call with Lipsky’s girlfriend that is well set up for a punchline to come. Lipsky has a line about the worst superhero origin story ever, which will mean a lot to fans coming from the new Lex Luthor.
I say this is a transformative role for Segal, only because it’s the first chance he’s gotten to really do this. I had no doubt that he could, but it’s great to see him become such a complex character. Maybe there were baby steps in Jeff, Who Lives At Homebut this extraordinary. Eisenberg has more of the straight role. It’s less of a vehicle for him but no less important that Lipsky be a friend and foil to Wallace.
It was great seeing The End of the Tour at Sundance where Pondsoldt has played before. In fact, it was the first time I actually managed to get a ticket to a Pondsoldt movie at Sundance, popular as his films have been. Like Smashed and The Spectacular Now, The End of the Tour will surely be seen theatrically, and even discussed at the end of the year Oscar pools, and it will be just as meaningful then as it is now.