I saw James Ponsoldt’s 2012 movie Smashed and thought it was OK, nothing special. I’ve heard a lot about The Spectacular Now and know that a lot of people really like it, but I can’t bring myself to sit through a teen romance melodrama. So, Ponsoldt directing isn’t a reason for me to see a movie. Posnoldt directing a true life story about a person I know nothing about shouldn’t really interest me either. But there were just too many good reviews for me to ignore James Ponsoldt directing the true life story of author David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour.
In 1996, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) released his epic, 1,000 page novel Infinite Jest and became literary sensation. 12 years later, he committed suicide, and one of the people called on to eulogise Wallace was journalist and author, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). Flashing back to the time of Infinite Jest’s release, Lipsky is assigned by Rolling Stone to follow Wallace on the last days of his book tour.
Things start awkwardly as the not so social Wallace reluctantly lets Lipsky into his home and life. With his own novel released to not much acclaim several years earlier, Lipsky is obviously in awe of Wallace, and more than a little jealous of his success. Paranoid and worried about how Lipsky will spin their time together in the article, Wallace is guarded, obtuse and aloof as the two dance around, exploit and work through their insecurities.
I haven’t read Infinite Jest and know very little about David Foster Wallace. But Jason Segel does a great job of making me feel like I know exactly who Wallace was and understand his genius, without ever actually reading a word of his writing. Based on the actual recordings of conversations between the real life Lipsky and Wallace, The End of the Tour is able to get away with long, eloquent monologues and deep musings that would usually seem like indulgent wankery. Segel sells the dialogue in a way that makes me totally believe the real Wallace probably did speak like that.
For the most part, The End of the Tour is just the two Daves in conversation. Other characters float in and out, but this entire movie lives and dies on the chemistry between Segel and Eisenberg. And even when they’re showing the worst side of their characters, it only goes to make them even more real and their relationship more compelling.
The only downside of this movie might be that Jason Segel’s portrayal of David Foster Wallace is a little too strong and memorable. Because now, if I read Inifitne Jest, or any other Wallace novel, I’m going to be hearing it in the voice of Segel as Wallace. I’ll be picturing Segel as Wallace writing it and filtering it through the version of Wallace that The End of the Tour presents.