Directed by James Ponsoldt
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel

Drawing on the book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky, The End Of The Tour is a kind of rolling chamber piece that both dissects and celebrates the notion of genius.

In 1996 Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) joined writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel, never better) on his promotional tour for his novel, Infinite Jest. Lipsky’s job is to interview Wallace for Rolling Stone, but his motive for doing so is more personal: a writer himself, he is in awe of Wallace’s talent and wants to glean insight into the man’s mind and process. Wallace, in turn, is an amiably awkward introvert who is grappling with the idea that his much-lauded new work will make him irreversibly famous. Over the course of five days, with Lipsky’s tape recorder almost always rolling, the two talk: about writing, about art, about fame, about pop culture, about women, about life.

You can pull all sorts of themes and lessons out of The End Of The Tour, but perhaps the most dominant is the impossibility of absolute honesty. As played Segel, Wallace is obsessed with the notion of emotional and intellectual truthfulness: he cherishes his “regular guyness” he says at one point, and is profoundly worried that his literary acclaim will rob him of it. Pretentiousness is anathema to him even as he, wittingly or not, indulges in it to one degree or another note the scene dealing with his bandanna affectation.

Eisenberg’s Lipsky, by contrast, is a young and hungry writer who craves connection with Wallace, hoping to emulate him or at least get an angle on how he’s able to do what he does, but more than once we see him poring through Wallace’s private belongings and noting glib, meaningless details about Wallace’s house. Lipsky lets his assignment and his own neediness jeopardise  his chances of real communion.

Still, the film forgives his shortcomings, and Wallace’s. It’s a humane work that drives at the heart of that weird mix of hubris and insecurity that both drives and plagues so many artists, and presents it in a thoughtful and engaging way. To be clear, director James Ponsoldt (the excellent The Spectacular Now) and screenwriter Donald Megulies are certainly printing the legend a bit here, and objections to the film’s portrayal of Wallace have been raised, as this piece illustrates. For all that, its a perceptive and deft piece that uses its versions of the real duo to throw some interesting balls in the air. Biographical films are always about the idea of a person rather than the person themselves; if this David Foster Wallace is not a perfect palimpsest of the genuine article, it’s certainly a respectful sketch.

TRAVIS JOHNSON

The End Of The Tour is playing as part of the Lotterywest Festival Films Season until Sunday, January 28. Go here for tickets and session times. 

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