American author David Foster Wallace may not exactly be a household name, but his reputation as a serious writer was cemented in 1996 with the publication of his critically acclaimed 1079 page tome Infinite Jest. Wallace embarked on a whirlwind five-day publicity tour of the Midwest to promote the book. He was accompanied on the road by rookie Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky, who wanted to write a detailed profile on Wallace for the magazine.
Although the article was never published, Lipsky kept the recordings of the prickly and at times revealing conversations between the two intense and smart writers as they probed each other for their flaws and failings. However, they provided the basis of Lipsky’s subsequent book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Those recordings have been faithfully recreated here and used to shape the script. Playwright Donald Margulies (Dinner With Friends) has adapted Lipsky’s book for the screen, and the film becomes an exploration of fame and a reluctant friendship. It also explores writers in a realistic fashion that we don’t often see on screen.
The film opens in 2008 with the announcement of Wallace’s suicide, and this information casts a pall over the rest of the film which unfolds in a series of extended flashbacks as both writers probe each other for weaknesses and vanity, and also trying to find out their hopes and aspirations.
Director James Ponsoldt (the superior coming of age film The Spectacular Now) tries hard to make the conversations riveting and compelling, but unfortunately it is all a bit too pretentious for most tastes.
However, Ponsoldt draws nuanced and intelligent performances from his two leads, who deliver a masterclass in screen acting. What is surprising is that Jason Segel (better known for the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother), who often plays the lovable doofus, actually delivers a sharp and earnest, nuanced career best performance here as the reclusive and shy Wallace who is suspicious of fame and its trappings. He inhabits the character completely and gets inside Wallace’s skin, capturing many of his mannerisms and eccentric ways and gentle self-effacing humour. Jesse Eisenberg plays Lipsky, but he comes across as smug, almost like he is the smartest person in the room, and his performance is shaped b y many of his trademark mannerisms.
Smaller roles are filled by Joan Cusack, Anna Chlumsky and Mamie Gummer, who are all good but hardly register.
The End Of The Tour is slow paced and feels longer than its 106 minute running time. It also seems a little theatrical in its staging, with much of the action confined to interiors and static sets. Swedish cinematographer Jakob Ihre captures some superb scenes of the snow covered countryside.
However, The End Of The Tour is a heavily dialogue driven character study and as such does not have broad appeal. Those who love literature and articulate and literate writing will appreciate the film, and those who know a bit about Wallace may also want to check it out, mainly out of curiosity.
Director: James Ponsoldt
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Joan Cusack, Anna Chlumsky and Mamie Gummer
Release date: 3 December 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television