The world sometimes loves nothing more than a tragic hero. A person who’s revered and considered a talented genius but is deep down has his own personal demons to contend with. This is certainly true for figures like Van Gogh (although he sadly wasn’t revered until long after his death) and now The End of the Tour paints this exact picture of author David Foster Wallace. The film is a road trip/long-winded conversation movie that really delves into its characters’ heads but at the same time doesn’t alter anything.
David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) is a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. On thin ice for something that is never explained Lipsky, a published author himself, seeks out David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) after reading his book Infinite Jest. Agreeing to the interview, but not really knowing what he’s getting himself into, Wallace welcomes Lipsky to tag along with him on the last five days of his book tour.
The entire film is thus a back-and-forth conversation on and off record about anything you could possibly imagine. Lipsky tries to get under Wallace’s skin for the sake of the story while taking a liking to him and being a bit envious of his more popular position as an author. But Wallace has his own past demons, having tried to commit suicide in the past among other things. The interview is printed, but after Wallace’s death in 2008, Lipsky writes a full-fledged book about his first and only days with the author.
It’s always hard when making movies about non-fiction characters. When you sit down to think about a particular persons and their loved ones, it’s hard not to feel anything but anxiety in wanting to get the story just right. This is especially true if said person’s death happened not long ago. At the same time, it is still a movie and it can be difficult reconciling the two issues. However, director James Ponsoldt handles the presentation of Wallace and Lipsky well as he tries to navigate this intimate meeting between two very different people.
The film is tame, touching on very dark elements and themes but never quite crossing that threshold. But the darker thematic elements we are privy to are enough to peak our interest without delving too far into territory that would be outside of the film’s scope. The conversation is intelligent without being completely pretentious.
Jason Segel gives a subtle and layered performance as Wallace. He maintains a guarded position the entire film, but still allows us to see inside his mind. He can still spew some humor, but Segel takes care to keep to character and isn’t so much broody as he is torn and reflective about a lot of things and there is almost immediate sympathy for him. Jesse Eisenberg is equal parts arrogant and full of hero worship and envy. He and Segel have a great rapport throughout the film. Joan Cusack and Mamie Gummer have minor roles that don’t really do much for the movie except alleviate some of the heavier material, so in that regard their presence is welcome.
The End of the Tour will of course receive some heat for portraying Wallace in a light those close to him may or not feel is true to who he was, but as a film, it succeeds in building an interesting character dynamic that is apparent and palpable in every scene. The film may not be for everyone because it is an entirely conversational piece, held together by meaningful words and character analysis. The performances are really what keep the film from falling apart and the character dynamic makes up for any sluggishness that befalls the film around the midway point before it picks up again. An interesting take on two people looking at each other from the outside in.