One of the breakout hits of the Sundance Film Festival, The End Of The Tour begins hitting theaters Friday, and as I say in my video review (click the link above), it is a literate and rewarding look at something that — on the surface at least — would not seem very cinematic. Based on a bestselling book by Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, the movie recounts the five-day 1996 interview session Lipsky conducted with acclaimed author David Foster Wallace, whose massive 1000-plus-page novel, Infinite Jest, had just been released.
Thanks to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies’ wonderfully literate and involving screenplay, plus some smart direction from James Ponsoldt, End Of The Tour, which indeed is told using the device of a road trip for much of its running time, is remarkably fluid and watchable all the way despite basically being a movie about words. Dialogue-driven films about ideas, thoughts and life philosophies are rare birds these days, but this one manages to reel us in with a portrait equally targeting both interviewer and interviewee. Margulies took most of the words from the massive amount of audio tapes Lipsky collected over that week, but had never used until hearing years later in 2008 about Wallace’s tragic suicide. That is how the film opens. The original interview never did run for whatever reasons, but Lipsky, still haunted by the memory of it, revisited those tapes and put the whole thing in the form of a book about the experience.
Now it’s a movie, which takes its title from the fact that Wallace is at the last stop on his book tour. It’s also one that has to walk a slippery slope as the online sharks and Wallace devotees are looking for every reason to tear it down. Expect to hear from those know-it-alls who claim they were the author’s best friend and that this movie does the extremely private man a disservice. That always happens with biopics, but in this case I think the word biopic is entirely misleading: This is a film that tells the story of a subject through one very narrow point in his life. And it is supported by what was actually on those tapes. It is a great device and by necessity of being a two-hour movie liberties have probably been taken. Still Ponsoldt, brought into the project by Margulies, was a huge fan of Wallace’s work and seems the perfect director to bring him to life again on the big screen.
Plus the casting could not have been better. Jesse Eisenberg plays Lipsky with just the right amount of nervous tics, energy and curiosity to pull it off — just as he did with another difficult real life personality as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. But the real surprise is that Jason Segel, known almost exclusively for comedic roles, was chosen to portray Wallace, bandanna and all. He clearly put his heart and soul into this role and from my point of view he gets right to the essence of the character without attempting an impersonation. It is a performance worthy of consideration for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination; comedy actors who surprise with dramatic chops are like catnip for Academy voters. I say supporting because even though the screen time between the pair is roughly equa , the thrust of the story is definitely Lipsky’s.
Producers are James Dahl, Matt DeRoss, David Kanter, Mark C. Manuel and Ted O’Neal. A24, the nascent distributor which has been riding an indie hot streak this year with Ex-Machina and Amy, opens the film in select engagements. Do you plan to see The End Of The Tour? Let us know what you think.