“You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.” – Infinite Jest
That’s a quote from David Foster Wallace’s book Infinite Jest, which was published in 1996. Following was the highest of acclaim for Mr. Wallace. On his book tour for Infinite Jest, Wallace spent a few days with a staff writer for Rolling Stone. His name was David Lipsky. Although Lipsky did conduct this interview, it was never published.
However, Mr. Lipsky published a book called Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself in 2010. This book told about these five days or so at the end of Wallace’s book tour. This movie, The End of the Tour, is an adaption of that book. The film is directed by James Ponsoldt, and the screenplay was written by David Margulies.
I saw this film on Day Six of the 2015 Sarasota Film Festival.
Essentially, this film is a two-hander meaning two actors dominate the screen. Unlike an interview that you might see or have seen on TV with Charlie Rose, Mike Wallace, Oprah, or Barbara Walters – where the interview is on a single set – this film is out and about. Wallace and Lipsky were on a book tour so there was travel involved. Meaning there was a rather large supporting cast – but really, the supporting players were not of consequence.
David Lipsky is portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg. I’ve not a lot of experience with Eisenberg in the movies but two films come to mind – To Rome With Love (from Woody Allen) and The Social Network. I guess I’ll always recall early on in The Social Network when Rooney Mara called Eisenberg (as Mark Zuckerberg) an asshole.
While Eisenberg can excel in characters that are frustrating, annoying, or awkward, apparently he has reigned in most of those traits to appear as David Lipsky. Lipsky is smart, competitive, in awe of Wallace, and a person who will forever hope he can attain the same acclaim as did David Foster Wallace. Yet, Eisenberg as Lipsky, breathes life into a character we may be predisposed to dislike. Of course this is an inherent and unavoidable situation in the world of celebrities and those who use celebrities.
This time around, Lipsky/Eisenberg is asking legitimate questions that often get under Wallace’s skin. Not because they are wrong-headed or of little substance, but because they are in fact sharp and pointed.
Across the table, or on side by side chairs, or on the other side of a car, or the aisle on an airplane, or simply on the opposite side of the conversation is David Foster Wallace who was already 34 years old at the time of the publication of Infinite Jest. Wallace had previously published The Broom of Society in 1987, which received high praise and a comparison to John Irving’s, The World According to Garp – so Wallace was not a complete stranger to being a celebrity. Only with Infinite Jest – he would become famous beyond anything he had previously dreamed about.
So the two of them go at – discussing everything from relationships between people to relationships between people and technology. Though much of it is sharp-witted and brilliant – a lot isn’t. Not that these guys aren’t smart, but more because Lipsky had more to gain than Wallace, and Wallace, who was always careful about what he’d reveal, because he would always be thinking three moves further out – like measuring the probable impact of what he might say, before he actually said it.
So, I think this is film about two guys who see the challenge of just talking to each other – which may or may not be your cup of team. Admittedly for me, I was in the position of not knowing a thing about either of these men before receiving my press ticket to see the film.
So I can’t compare the actors to the real people involved. I’ve read since, that Jason Segel, did have access to some video of prior Wallace interviews – so he strove for accuracy rather that straight duplication.
Of course this is where the actors true skills emerge. In a real life conversation, we exchange with another person, and while the response may well be within a certain range of predictability, one might be surprised by both the response as well as the manner by which it was delivered to you. Meaning, genuine reaction.
For Eisenberg and Segel – who were acting within the characterizations as detailed by the script – they had to portray ‘genuine’ reactions just the same. One could say that both did very well – and yet that Eisenberg seemed to be running more on pre-programmed autopilot than did Segel.
But that too is subject to one’s own views on the actor themselves.
I think this film will do well within certain small niche markets consisting of literary circles, folks with media backgrounds, and fans of Eisenberg and Segel. Ponsoldt has created a film that is interesting , even touching – but I think is not for everyone.
For the record, the Literary Estate of David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide 12 years after the publication of Infinite Jest, has not come out in support of the film. In that sense, they claim that David would not have approved the film. Besides that, I’ve not found a trailer for the film, or a poster, and only a small number of images. There is no Official Release Date either. Coming up are The Independent Film Festival in Boston on April 22nd, and The International Film Festival in San Francisco on May 2nd.
[Edited in on Sunday the 19th] – The End of the Tour won the SFF Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. Personally, I preferred Clouds of Sils Maria over this one.