For those who lived under a rock in 1996, or conversely, like this reviewer, lived in another country where David Foster Wallace had not become an instant national icon, The End of the Tour is not just a brilliant introduction to the deceased author, but also serves as a sort of buddy movie in five acts. Jesse Eisenberg plays David Lipsky, back when he worked for The Rolling Stone and he interviewed new author Wallace, whose second novel Infinite Jest caused a tsunami in the American literary world.
Jason Segel, an actor whose comedy chops are massive as proven in films like Sex Tape and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, as well as The Muppets, takes to the bipolar, and mentally depressed writer like a duck to water. Segel appears to have put a few pounds on to play the part and the bandanna along with the long wig, or extensions that Jason sports, make him look uncannily like Wallace.
The End of the Tour source material (Lipsky’s book was brilliantly titled Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which began life as the 2009 magazine article written by the author after the news of Wallace’s suicide) has been described as a “road film.” Therefore the film, which is a combination road film, buddy picture and look at the effects of impending fame, has the same feel as the two men travel from interview venues across the states over the five day period.
This “docu-drama” is spellbinding for those who enjoy intelligent films. This is a look at not only Wallace but Lipsky as well. In many ways the story is a type of duel. Reporter/author versus author/professor. The ever present questions, with the recorder on and off intermingles with what appears to be Dave’s very real fascination with the man he pushed his Stones editor into green lighting an interview.
Eisenberg plays the part of Lipsky with his usual mix of “nice guy” with an edge, a change from all the nebbish roles he played in other films (aka social inept’s who manage to overcome their geekiness to become the “hero”) and he gives a feeling of truth to the real person he is portraying. The real surprise, however, is Segel’s playing of Wallace.
Granted, the two work brilliantly as a double act, not in a comedic sense but of two talented and intelligent men feeling each other out. The hesitant question and answer period, the tentative friendship and the ultimate realization that these two will never really be friends or equals. Another factor impeding a possible friendship could well be the envy that Lipsky has for Wallace’s success.
Segel gives Wallace a feeling of vulnerability and guarded openness. IMDb states that the cast and crew used Lipsky’s audio tapes for research and that the screenplay was adapted from the book only. Segel gets the author’s speech pattern down quite well, and if the tapes were not listened to, one has only to head over to YouTube to learn how Wallace carried himself in interviews. It is obvious that the actor spent a lot of time researching his role as he pulls it off brilliantly.
Lipsky, despite being a published author in his own right, is obviously jealous of the other author’s runaway success on the charts and the critic’s adoration for his 1000 page second novel. Yet Wallace also exhibits jealousy, and anger, when David flirts with a former girlfriend of the novelist.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said of the film is that it makes the viewer aware and interested in David Foster Wallace, as well as David Lipsky. By the time the end credits roll, the viewer feels a sense of knowing both men that bit better, at least in that five day rolling diary of the interview which was never printed.
Certainly the musings of two creatives could be deemed boring by some, but those who like films that reveal the process behind the work will love this picture. DirectorJames Ponsoldt and the performers make the screenplay by Donald Margulies feel real, as though the viewer is really watching the two men talk spontaneously and not following the lines from a script.
The End of the Tour, a title that expresses the book tour that Wallace was on, may not be the best title ever, that surely goes to Lipsky’s novel, but it feels oddly apt. Certainly it alludes to the author’s “getting famous” tour but it also describes the end of Wallace’s personal tour, if you will, in other words his life.
Splendid viewing for those aware of the Infinite Jest author and just as good for those who may never have had the pleasure. A 5 star character study of a film that is enjoyable from start to finish feels almost like a comedy film in five acts (or days) and shows just how well Segel does outside the comedy field.