The End of the Tour: A Buddy Movie in Five Acts (Review)

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 is also serves as a buddy movie in five acts.

Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel

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.

Learning to Drive: A Gentle Touching Comedy of Changes (Review)

Starring Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson, Learning to Drive is a gentle, touching comedy about life changes and growing up “later in life.” Directed by Isabel Coixet (who worked with the two stars earlier in Elegy – 2009) and based upon an article written by feminist author Katha Pollitt, (then turned into a screenplay by Sarah Kernochan) this could be seen as an older “chick flick.”

Patricia Clarkson and Sir Ben Kingsley Wendy and Darwin

Starring Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson, Learning to Drive is a gentle, touching comedy about life changes and growing up “later in life.” Directed by Isabel Coixet (who worked with the two stars earlier in Elegy – 2009) and based upon an article written by feminist author Katha Pollitt, (then turned into a screenplay by Sarah Kernochan) this could be seen as an older “chick flick.” 

In reality, the film is more of a “coming of age” tale, coming  at a time in life where sudden change can mean a temporary return to the insecurities of childhood, even when this happens to a protagonist in her mid-50s.  An unfaithful husband leaving his wife; Wendy (Clarkson)  and a man ready to marry a bride he has never met; Darwin (Kingsley) meet and change each other’s lives.

Wendy’s husband takes her to a restaurant to reveal he is leaving her. As the couple storm from the eatery and grab a cab, driven by Darwin, they argue and continue the fight that began in the restaurant.  Ted (Jake Weber) gets out and tells Darwin to drive Wendy home. Once the cab reaches her home, she gets out and leaves a parcel in the vehicle.

Darwin shows up later to return the envelope and Wendy notices he is a driving instructor as well as a cab driver. She asks for his card and decides that she now must learn to drive. Learning to Drive follows these two disparate people who each teach the other something about life, trust and observation.

Wendy is a book critic with a grown daughter and a husband who has left her for another woman, an author she actually admires. Darwin is a Sikh who was imprisoned in India and took political asylum in America. The former university professor drives a taxi cab and works as a driving instructor.

Darwin’s sister in India chooses a woman for him to marry and this means that, like Wendy, his life is now in turmoil as well. With both people facing huge changes in their separate worlds, they learn from one another. Wendy, learns to take control of  her life and Darwin learns to adapt.

This film is rich in character study and looks closely at how people interact on a personal level. We follow Wendy and Darwin during their lessons. These driving tutorials reveal much about both people and the film also peeks at their lives outside the lessons.

Kudos to Clarkson for appearing nearly nude for her “love scene” at 55. The Oscar nominated actress owns her character from frame one and the audience gets behind the woman who faces this mid life direction change because of an unfaithful husband.

Kingsley gives the sort of  relaxed performance that one expects from an Academy award winner and looks much younger than his 71 years.  Appearances aside, this is the sort of character that the actor could portray in his sleep and the chemistry between Kingsley and Clarkson is sheer magic.

Grace Gummer has a cameo as the daughter caught between the soon to be divorced parents. There is something infinitely watchable about the real life daughter of Meryl Streep. When Grace is on screen the gaze is immediately drawn to her character and when she is not in the shot, one longs for more Grace.

Jake Weber acts his socks off when he is on screen, although there is not a lot of screen time for his character as Ted becomes peripheral after the break up.

This tale of discovery is not really one “just for the girls.”  Fans of gentle comedy, with a touch of romance and a little truth will enjoy this film. Coixet’s direction is firm and she guides the story smoothly and with feeling.  The script if full of dialogue that amuses and entertains on many levels.

Learning to Drive is up for a number of awards, Best Actress, Best Actor, Director and Best Original Score. If one takes a moment to read the original article by the source author Katha Pollitt it would not be surprising if  Sarah Kernochan gets the gong for Best Adapted Screenplay. (Remember you heard it here first…)

This is an enjoyable 5 out of 5 star film.  Everyone hits the right notes to make this a touching comedy about changes that gently serves up its message.  Watch this one and smile…a lot.