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The End of the Tour (2015)
A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: James Ponsoldt
Written by: Donald Marguiles
Produced by: Ted O'Neal, David Kanter, Mark C. Manuel, James Dahl, Matt DeRoss.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Anna Chlumsky, Mamie Gummer, Mickey Summer.
Writers live solitary lives. Living where they won’t be easily found, with only a small handful of friends. Endless chatter bogs down the process. David Foster Wallace didn’t particularly like people that much, or at least that was the mask he put on. He didn’t like people, so he lived in a secluded part of a small town in Illinois. And yet his book is becoming a fast classic, and he is a figure everyone is talking about, a person everybody is calling the “next great writer.” Yet this, the thing that was supposed to satisfy him, doesn’t.
It is this character struggle that THE END OF THE TOUR, a terrific new film from the terrific filmmaker, James Ponsoldt, is framed around. Jason Segel plays Wallace in the best performance I have ever seen from him. I initially scoffed at the idea of Segel gunning for an Oscar nomination; but his Wallace in sensitive, his is an effective imitation, but it doesn’t lack for soul, unlike what you see from many of these sort of performances. He wants an Oscar nomination, and he may actually get it.
He is helped by Ponsoldt’s confident pacing, a fantastic script by Donald Marguiles, and a performance by Jesse Eisenberg that will go down as one of the best of his career. The film is about David Lipsky, played by Eisenberg, who sees a big story in Wallace’s rise to fame. He gets the o.k. from his bosses to go interview Wallace, and the rest of the movie follows their interview during a five day book tour, and their constant conversation. This film was riveting because the dialogue was riveting, these are two smart people talking about how they see life and how they see the world and how they see art.
This could easily veer into being pretentious but the film manages to maintain the momentum generated by their conversation, as well as manages to constantly keep their conversation fresh and interesting. It plays similar, in a lot of ways, to the 1981 classic MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, in that by the time the film is over you feel as though you know these people intimately, and you love them for it.
The atmosphere is the closest to legitimate realism I have seen so far this year. There are no scenes of flashy melodrama and Ponsoldt’s direction is wisely downplayed. It’s a movie that allows its characters to clash with one another, while never forgetting to respect their humanity. Lipsky is conflicted; he knows he needs to get questions from this guy, and he knows that to do that, he needs to probe, but he doesn’t want to because he likes Wallace. They are friendly, and they fight, but at the end they truly do understand each other, and that’s a big part of what makes this movie feel as raw as it is.
Eisenberg’s performance is going to get unfairly glossed over, and that’s a shame because it’s my favorite performance of his thus far. Eisenberg has always been good at playing introverted characters, but it gels here better than it has in the past. He goes from nervous fanboy to hard-edged in the blink of an eye. What’s great about all of the acting in this movie is that it all comes so naturally. The actors clearly did their homework, and were prepared to take on roles that were much harder to pull off than they look.
THE END OF THE TOUR will probably go down as one of my favorite movies of the year. It’s smart, its intimate, it’s funny, it has a pulse. It’s the kind of movie that’s almost akin to a spiritual experience, where you come out unable to articulate what was so brilliant about it, but at the same time you look forward to when you’ll inevitably watch it again. That doesn’t often happen for me at the multiplex, and I’m ecstatic that it did here.