THE END OF THE TOUR, Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Anna Chlumsky, Joan Cusack, Mickey Sumner, Mamie Gummer, Ron Stevenson. Directed by James Pondsolt. 106 minutes. Rated M (Coarse Language and Sexual References).
The End of the Tour is something of a specialist film, a film for lovers of literary fiction, especially American fiction. it is basically a two-hander, several days of conversation between the novelist, David Foster Wallace, and a Rolling Stones reporter, David Lipsky, who accompanied him on part of his tour to promote his book, Infinite Jest, published in 1996. It is based on the reporter’s memoir, Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself.
It does not matter if the audience has not heard of David Foster Wallace. They will have quite an impression of him by the end of the film. It does begin somewhat grimly, with the news in 2008 that he had killed himself. The reporter, David Lipski, is shocked to discover the news and prepares a eulogy of the novelist which he delivers in New York City.
Then the film goes into flashback.
Jesse Eisenberg, who is almost always the same in every film (well, always the same) whether he be Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network or David Lipski – always a little hunch-shouldered and forward-stooping, nervous manner in speaking, always on the edge even when he is relaxed. But this suits him here, a reporter tired of writing about Boy Bands, and proposing to its editor that there is a story in the success of David Foster Wallace and his thousand page novel.
For those familiar with Jason Segel’s career, almost always in comedies, including Knocked up and similar comedies, Gulliver’s Travels and The Muppets, his performance here as Wallace will be a complete surprise – except that he does remind us that earlier in his career, it would be Jeff Daniels as Wallace. some commentators have said that he captures Wallace’s manner very well, a tall and rather lumbering man, always wearing a bandanna, chunks of hair emerging from each side of it, in old clothes (Joan Cusack’s chauffeur in Minneapolis exclaiming rhetorically as he goes to radio interview, “you’re not wearing that”). And, he doesn’t mind McDonald’s and other takeaway food…
David Lipski goes to Bloomington to do the interview, recorded but Wallace has a few reservations, especially about the privacy of his parents. What follows is a great deal of conversation, relishing of words and delivery, interactions between the two men, Wallace speaking at a book signing, on radio, with a friend from university days (Mickey Sumner) and enthusiastic fan (Mamie Gummer).
There is a great deal of self-revelation from the two men, the reporter nosing out details for his story, but, somewhat envious of the writer, who does not take himself too seriously with his fame, who has a certain charm, despite living alone with his large dogs, friendly with students in his creative writing course, able to reflect on the themes of his work, especially the theme of loneliness and a future prospect for marriage and having children.
Direction is by James Ponsoldt whose work includes specialist films, Smashed and The Spectacular Now.
Words, words, words, – those who enjoy conversation will not be sick of words but will relish the conversations.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released December 3rd