Prior to seeing this film, I had limited knowledge of David Foster Wallace and his works. After seeing the film, I wanted to learn more. The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt) is a very reflective film, highlighting author Wallace on the last stretch of his book tour for his novel Infinite Jest. Our entry point into this intriguing man is David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone reporter hired to do a piece on him in the late 1990s.
What little there is of plot is made up for in excellent characterization. The film is really all about existentialism, and thankfully it never leans towards pretentiousness. Rather there is an air of optimism about making your time on earth worthwhile. Wallace and Lipsky in a way represent two extremes of existentialism. Wallace is very relaxed, and takes his newfound celebrity with a grain of salt, while Lipsky is very Type-A, yet never brash or irritating. Lipsky has been trying to get his foot in the door as an author for a while now, while Wallace almost became famous overnight, and the film plays with the concept of "fame" in fun and unique ways. Through the film, Ponsoldt is able to explore these two extremes and find common ground between them, all while touching on the idea of fame and what it means to different people.
The script is outstanding, and hits all the right notes I touched on above. The dialogue between Lipsky and Wallace feels natural, nothing is forced. I wonder how much improvisation was done for the film, because the two seem like good friends from the moment they meet. There is a natural chemistry that draws these two characters together, and it's outstanding to watch on-screen. It's difficult to adapt a book like Lipsky's, which is mostly interviews and recording, as the book was published after Wallace's death in 2008. But screenwriter Donald Marguiles makes it work, and the result is an insightful, often hilarious film.
All this talk about chemistry would be a waste if it weren't for Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg as Wallace and Lipsky, respectively. Segel is a marvel as Wallace; it's a performance that doesn't demand much, yet Segel taps into all of Wallace's nuances and quirks. His delivery, cadence, and warmth almost makes it feel like you're talking to an old friend. It's a subtle performance that I hope is remembered come awards season. Eisenberg, too, is great. His reporter-type isn't very developed until the middle-end of the film, and he might come across as annoying for some. But he makes Lipsky tick as the curious interviewer wanting to learn more. He's driven by his desire to success, his want to make a successful piece for Rolling Stone, yet he ends up with a lot more.
The End of the Tour is a huge success. It isn't a very showy film, without much in the way of technical prowess, yet it's a talker. The realistic dialogue and blasé tone make the film feel like a 140 minute hang out with two good friends. Ponsoldt keeps a tight grip on the film's themes, never letting one overpower the film's true intentions. It's a wonderful ode to Wallace, and a funny one at that.