The End of the Tour ★★½

I don't want to rag on something I haven't actually read, but I got annoyed with Infinite Jest very very quickly, so my only exposure to David Foster Wallace's writing is still some of his nonfiction essays and reporting, which I found enjoyable in small doses, not unlike a lot of arch, cerebral "renegade" writers (Tom Wolfe comes to mind) -- though fuck him for that ass-kissing John McCain essay in the pages of Rolling Stone, but I digress. Speaking of Rolling Stone, this film is based on a long exchange of conversations between Wallace and a less famous (but still celebrated in literary circles) writer, David Lipsky, who's interviewing him for that magazine in the last days of DFW's book tour for Jest. Because of my lack of a real personal relationship with Wallace's writing, and my near-total lack of interest in building one (sorry), to me this is just a long two-hander and a somewhat atmospheric road movie, skillfully directed by a filmmaker whose work continues to suggest (see The Spectacular Now) that he has smart, occasionally insightful ideas and a youthful pretension that hasn't quite left him yet. I trust Wallace's friend Glenn Kenny when he bitterly says the whole thing is a violation of the now-deceased hero's spirit, attitude and actual nature, but as he readily admits, it doesn't seem likely that any film about a figure like this would actually meet the approval of those who knew him.

Kenny characterizes Jason Segel's performance as Wallace as being superficial, built entirely on meaningless tics, but what can I say? I bought it, it struck me as sweet and unassuming for the most part, endearing me to someone I wouldn't automatically find all that interesting. I don't know if either of these leading men are particularly great actors -- there isn't much variance or significant, heated challenge in their careers that I can see yet -- but they're both very fun to watch, Jesse Eisenberg especially, because he has such a thin range of emotions and always seems like such an entitled asshole, like the devil's in him reaching to get out, rendering potential blank-slate roles like this oddly menacing. (Crispin Glover used to do this every time was cast in a "straight" film, but of course he's a lot more distinctive.) I'm pretty suspicious of the idea that any of this ego-driven milling around is a good basis for drama -- arguments over semantics and girls and the general introverted writer dude-ness of it all are immensely hard for me to relate to even as an introverted dude who digs writing -- and I'm disappointed that it drops the idea of a narrative symmetry in favor of some self-aggrandizing monologue of Lipsky himself on a book tour bullshitting about how "young" they both were twelve years before one of them died. I wanted to know why the story ended up being killed, the interviews unpublished until Lipsy wrote his book after the suicide. But the movie's plenty entertaining, with excellent music choices, a solid Joan Cusack cameo and a nice sense of calm wanderlust. I imagine it plays very differently to someone who's a bigger fan of Wallace's work.