Wesley Emblidge ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor
The latest in the stream of comedy actors going dramatic in indies is Jason Segel, the star of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the show How I Met Your Mother. His seemingly stunt casting as cult author David Foster Wallace was a source of controversy amongst his more passionate fans, who feared he’d be turned into the kind of doofus Segel often plays. Wallace, who really broke out with his 1079-page Infinite Jest, was always a controversial figure all the way up until his sudden suicide in 2008. The big question many have raised about The End of the Tour, which documents a few days Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent with Wallace at the end of his book tour for Infinite Jest, is how Wallace would feel about it. No one can really answer that question, but at the end of the day it’s not what matters, because The End of the Tour is still an interesting study of fame, writing and creative jealously, all told at a refreshing small scale with two really great performances.
The film is at its most interesting when the screenplay (adapted from Lipsky’s book by Donald Margulies) hones in on the tensions between the two of them as writers, but different kinds, and how Lipsky aspires to be like Wallace and how uncomfortable that makes both of them. There’s a lot more explored than that, but as a result the film is never able to go as in-depth as one might like about any of its subjects, and moreover gives a broad overview of Wallace’s thoughts on many different ones.
Director James Ponsoldt (Smashed, The Spectacular Now) seems to be finding himself as more of an actor’s director than much of a visual stylist. The film is at times almost shot like a documentary, just letting these two talk, and it’s a testament to their talent that it’s all so compelling. Segel really inhabits Wallace, and once you realize this it doesn’t feel at all like stunt casting but just the perfect casting. There’s a loneliness and sadness to Wallace that he captures really nicely, though Eisenberg completely holds his own as well up against him. The End of the Tour is at its best when these actors get to just work, and luckily that’s most of what Ponsoldt and Margulies give us.
Overall Grade: B
The Independent Film Festival of Boston runs through April 29th. Visit iffboston.org for more information.