Director James Ponsoldt's thoughtful film, "The End of the Tour", which documents the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and revered novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), in the winter of 1996, will most assuredly grace the Top 10 lists of many film critics at the end of the 2015 film season.
The brilliant screenplay by Pulitzer prizewinner Donald Margulies affords the audience the opportunity to relive this encounter, which was never published by Rolling Stone. Following the interview, Lipsky packed away all of the tapes and notes from his remarkable conversations with Wallace, who was 34 and a huge literary success.
It wasn't until Wallace's tragic suicide in 2008 when Lipsky revisited his material and wrote "Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself", a widely-acclaimed account of their time together and an insightful glimpse into Wallace's mind. Margulies has developed Lipsky's novel into an engaging and humorous script that is never dull.
You can almost read people's thoughts when trying to describe "The End of the Tour". The story of two relatively young men traveling together around the wintry, dreary Midwest discussing social observations, philosophies and life, in general, usual causes their eyes to glaze over. But in reality, "The End of the Tour" is entertaining repartee between two accomplished writers with genius minds.
Eisenberg and Segel are well-matched and well cast. Eisenberg has played this type of role before in "The Social Network", but for Segel, usually known for comedy, portraying Wallace may have been a challenge, and one that he rises to perfectly. I was mesmerized by both performances.
Lest you think "The End of the Tour" sounds slow and boring, rest assured that it is not. Margulies' writing is crisp, fast-paced and thought-provoking. There is also a great deal of amusement, as these two men negotiate their feelings about one another, and the strangeness of traveling with a stranger.
"The End of the Tour" was screened at the Chicago Critics Film Festival in May. It is definitely a film which stays with you. Ponsoldt was present to introduce his film and answer questions. He's a really nice guy and an accomplished filmmaker --- watch for more from him.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
"The truth will set you free.
But not until it is finished with you".
The above quote was excerpted from a book entitled "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace, who spent five days with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky after its publication. Wallace, touted as the most brilliant writer of his generation, has been compared to influential writers that include the likes of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Tom Wolfe and Jack Kerouac.
Lipsky requested and was granted an extensive interview with Wallace. Their story is told in "The End of the Tour", featuring brilliant performances by Jason Segel (Wallace) and Jesse Eisenberg (Lipsky).
You might not think the premise of a reporter interviewing an author would turn out to be a stimulating movie, but that would be a totally false assumption. The four hundred or so film buffs who saw this movie last May at the Chicago Critics Film Festival would attest to that. Hanging on every exchange between the two men, "The End of the Tour" is an intimate study of a very complex, troubled individual and a dogged journalist intent on getting a big story.
Director James Ponsoldt follows up his successful "The Spectacular Now" (starring the relatively unknown Miles Teller), with this film based on the actual recorded conversations between Wallace and Lipsky. These tapes were not made public until after Wallace's death in 2008, when Lipsky published a book based on their time together. Screenwriter Donald Margulies' intelligent and thoughtful script is based on Lipsky's book.
Note: a spoiler alert is not necessary as we learn from the outset that Wallace had, indeed, committed suicide. This knowledge, however, constantly lingers in our mind, especially when Wallace tells Lipsky "You really don't want to be what I am".
The film flashes back to 1996 when Wallace was 34 years old. The relationship between Wallace and Lipsky is initially cautious, like two prize fighters sizing each other up. It evolves into a working friendship, becomes contentious, and ultimately winds up amicably.
Wallace was a large man, living alone with two black Labrador retrievers. He is portrayed as often intimidating, but mostly coming off as a good guy. His loneliness and insecurities, despite his fame due to the mammoth, 1000 plus page "Infinite Jest", shades the story with an overriding sadness that I found difficult to shake.
Segel, known primarily for his comedy work, is no stranger to drama. His 2012 film "Jeff, Who Lives At Home", co-starring Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon, was a critical, if not popular, success. So Segel's performance in "The End of the Tour" is not unique to his career, but it will likely be considered his most seminal role to this point. He is simply marvelous.
Eisenberg, of course, an Oscar nominee for playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman in "The Social Network", is no stranger to high drama. He is superb as the reporter/interviewer who tiptoes around sensitive subjects, like Wallace's alleged heroin abuse, without alienating the volatile writer. Margulies compares Eisenberg's performance to Jack Lemmon's in "The Apartment", a 1960 film that swept the four biggest Oscars. High praise indeed!
Joan Cusack is Wallace's publicist, Patty, escorting the pair around Minneapolis-St. Paul. Cusack is perfectly cast as the ever-cheerful tour guide who eventually becomes exasperated with them.
This is not necessarily a movie for lovers of action or high adventure. It essentially qualifies as an art film that will finds its audience based on glowing critical reviews, and the celebrity attraction of its two captivating stars.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!