Making a movie that is mostly two people talking, is hard enough to sell on a good day, but when you have all the right people involved things come together in an amazing and beautiful way. The End of the Tour is just one of those gems of a film in the tall grass of the blockbuster movies.
This story takes us back to 1996, when Rolling Stone reporter (and novelist) David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) pitches a story to his editor on David Foster Wallace, whose novel Infinite Jest is receiving massive acclaim and flying off the bookshelves. Lipsky meets Wallace to spend a few days together during the last stops of his book tour and as the two form an uneasy friendship, we see too very insecure artists almost at odds with one another as they try to justify their very existence, not only to each other but to the world that chews them up and spits them out. Are these men telling each other guarded lies as they try to find out more about the other, or are they laying bare secrets that they can only tell other people in similar situations?
These slice of life movies don’t often give a chance to think beyond the moment, but the magic in The End of the Tour is that for better or worse we genuinely care about these two men in front of us and the things that they struggle with.
It dives deep into the relationship between the journalist and the subject much like Almost Famous and director James Ponsoldt allows both guys a chance to explore not only the subject matter but the genuine vulnerability of the characters that they are playing. It really is a slice of Americana, not in any overt or hokey way but embraces the small lies and the unnatural vulnerability that has to come into play during these situations. Both men are playing a role, but at what stage does that bleed into their lives as they are both at professional crossroads in their lives and are really uncomfortable with their situations in life, just because one of them is regarded as a literary god is irrelevant. They are just two guys, and the Ponsoldt along with the script by Donald Margulies gives these guys room to breathe as we can appreciate the unique and intense nature of the moment between these two men while both actors allow the characters to grow.
While I am sure Foster Wallace devotees are aghast at the casting of Jason Segel, let me put those fears to rest right now as Segel simply knocks this out of the park in one of the best performances of his entire career. He takes the man to some genuine and real places as the character goes from insecure, to funny, to arrogant sometimes without taking a breather. Segel captured the tormented energy of a creative genius who is always wonder if he is good enough, and in this instance Segel is more than good enough as he takes his first steps into ‘great’ territory. Jesse Eisenberg matches him turn for turn as Lipsky, an academic who thinks his job writing boy band bios or lists on pop stars best singles is beneath him and has been salivating to talk to someone like Wallace, only to see that Wallace is as unsatisfied as he is. Eisenberg creates that kinship between the two men and tears it down when he has to and his job is in the way. In many ways both men wish that they were the other as they are two unique and intelligent individuals who are terribly uncomfortable in their own existences. Both men distain, yet crave success all at the same time and their shared torment of finding some sort of peace with it all is fascinating to watch unfold. Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer, Mickey Sumner, Anna Chlumsky and Ron Livingston all pop in for some varying small moments but it all comes back to Segel and Eisenberg as they get to spin a story is so lyrical and relatable that you just can’t look away from it.
At the end of the day, just revel in the magic at The End of the Tour is the kind of movie that you just want to let wash all over you as you take it all in. It’s all about the power of the moment, which plays just as big if not bigger then some of the tent-pole blockbusters that we have seen this year.