Now this is how you do a biopic. I mentioned in my article about I’m Not There that biopics often feel too much like the same movie, because they usually try to do too much. For some reason directors think that people want to see a famous persons whole damn life up on screen, and in order to do that they end up cramming way too much in. I’ve always been of the mind that the far more interesting kind of biopic is one where instead of focusing on a persons total life experiences, you instead focus on a singular event that’s emblematic of their whole life. And that’s what the End of the Tour does. We could have gotten an overwrought examination of the life of author David Foster Wallace, from childhood to suicide, and man it would have sucked. Instead, we get this fascinating little intimate exploration into just a couple days he spent with a Rolling Stone journalist/aspiring novelist David Lipsky. And man was it a good movie.
I first heard about this movie after I was already a bit into Infinite Jest and as I progressed through that beast of a novel, I became more and more interested in seeing this movie. And I’ll say, my biggest takeaway from this movie was that I want to learn more about David Foster Wallace. If the portrayal of him in this movie is even half accurate, I feel like it’s lent some serious light onto the novel, and where he was coming from when he wrote it. First of all, I want to say that the two leads did a tremendous job. Jason Segal played Wallace in an amazing turn. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in such a dramatic movie, and I thought he was terrific. Once again, I really am wanting to check out interviews or recordings of Wallace to see how well he did portraying the man, but the performance he turned in was very understated and captivating. Then we had the always great Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky, a struggling author who is initially jealous of Wallace’s universal acclaim, and then becomes fascinated by him as they begin to bond over their intimate interview. I really loved Eisenberg’s performance as well. I feel like it would have been so easy to make him a sort of villain, like Salieri in Amadeus, a less talented creator who is jealous and eventually malicious towards the genius. But instead they made him more realistic person. Yeah, of course he’s going to be jealous of Wallace, they’re basically the same age and Wallace has written a book that people are calling a defining masterpiece, but he doesn’t let the jealousy take control of him. He’s just so fascinated by Wallace, and desperate to figure out his secret so he can one day become as successful. But it’s not from a malicious place, he doesn’t seem to want to supplant Wallace as a writer, he wants to be his equal.
I loved this movie. I couldn’t help but notice a similarity with one of my favorite, if not my favorite movies of all time, Almost Famous, since they were both about Rolling Stone reporters travelling with creative geniuses that turn out to be way more human than they would expect. And whereas Almost Famous is full of over the top rock and roll personalities competing to be the craziest person in the movie, this film was about two quiet, introverted intellectuals, struggling to impress each other. Wallace feels like the whole world sees him as some sort of magnificent genius, and is dealing with the stress that comes with that. By the end of the movie he flat out tells Lipsky that he’s worried that people will realize that he’s not a genius, that he’s a fraud, and lose respect for him, and he gets worried that the story Lipsky is writing could contribute tot that. Meanwhile Lipsky is incredibly threatened by Wallace’s success and intelligence, and acts a little belligerent at times to hide his own self-doubt and insecurities.
The movie also did a great job with Wallace’s depression. I studied depression in college, and can occasionally suffer minor bouts of it brought on by an anxiety disorder, and I generally hate the media’s usual portrayal of the disorder. People think that to be depressed you have to be constantly sad, all the time. But that’s not necessarily the case. Wallace shows that he deals with his depression, and has ups and downs, like any other person, it’s just that his downs are much more down than the average person. Lipsky’s interview gradually chips away at his standoffish persona, and gets down to the real man. He’s not some literary genius who only speaks in brilliant quotes. He’s a normal guy who likes Die Hard, McDonalds, and playing with his dogs. He has struggled with depression and addiction, coping to problems with alcohol abuse and an ever-present addiction to the productivity draining power of television. And I especially love that the movie didn’t hit you over the head with his suicide. The movie has a frame story where Lipsky learns of Wallace’s suicide, and breaks out the tapes from 12 years earlier when he spent the five days with him, and reminisces the rest of the movie. By the end of their interview, he tries to impart some wisdom on Lipsky, like telling him “You don’t want to be me,” after realized that Lipsky wants nothing more than the fame and success that’s slowly killing Wallace. But he doesn’t have some ominous moment where he talks about killing himself. Suicide and depression are brought up throughout the movie, but there’s no terrible scene like there is in every movie about Abraham Lincoln where somebody comes in and says “Mr. Lincoln, it’s time to go to the play,” where we’re being emotionally manipulated into realizing that he’s about to die. It was an understated and beautifully acted film, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
The End of the Tour was written by Donald Margulies and directed by James Ponsoldt.
Categories: Reel Talk