Actor transforms into DFW in ‘The End of the Tour’
January 27, 2015
David Lipsky, then a writer for Rolling Stone magazine and being portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg in the Sundance film "The End of the Tour," is pitching his editor about doing a story on author David Foster Wallace and is getting nowhere in a hurry.
The editor, of course, doesn’t see that there is a story there. What’s Lipsky going to hang his hat on? Rolling Stone isn’t a book review magazine! Lipsky sees that Wallace has transcended the literary and has become a rock star, which, indeed, is Rolling Stone’s turf. So, finally, the editor gives him the go-ahead as long as the rumored drug use and depression issues are addressed in the piece.
For whatever reason, the enigmatic Wallace, following the 1996 publication of the 1,000 page "Infinite Jest" and being hailed as the writer of his generation, agrees to allow Lipsky to tag along on the last few stops of his book tour.
Lipsky, having also published a book, also sees himself as a writer, although certainly not anywhere near the caliber of Wallace, but in his mirror, not totally off the radar, either. DFW has self-esteem issues. His brain, however, does not. It works full-time collating data at unprecedented rates and his prose flows like Mozart at his most prolific.
And therein is the film. Adapted from a later memoir by Lipsky entitled "Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace," this will forever be known as the coming-out vehicle for Jason Segel, who portrays Wallace. The actor now, not unlike the writer then, is well on the verge of becoming a rock star.
Segel’s work as the quirky Wallace is that good! Spectacularly subtle yet not missing anything in either his external or interior landscapes. It wasn’t easy being David Foster Wallace and, watching and becoming mesmerized by Segel’s performance, nothing is more evident.
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The physical proximity, once Wallace, at the outset, brings Lipsky into his quite-singular bachelor pad as a roommate, both lends itself to the Petri-dish-like chemical interactions while nudging the narrative of the odd couple forward. Wallace wants to be loved, even more than Lipsky. Lipsky wants respect from the wunderkind writer.
Filmmaker James Ponsoldt choreographs his leads like Ballanchine. Even when the characters themselves are out of step, Segel and Eisenberg never miss their mark.
The same can be said for the "trust" factor. While Wallace never completely trusts Lipsky to portray him as he sees himself in the forthcoming Rolling Stone piece, Lipsky mistrusts Wallace’s willingness to let his guard down and show his true self.
The trust, however, between Segel and Eisenberg as they go about their oftentimes seemingly clumsy pas de deux, is unwavering. David Foster Wallace didn’t need no stinkin’ positive reviews to gain a sense of self worth and I’m sure the same, to a different degree of course, goes for Segel. The jury might still be out on Eisenberg, however.
Wallace and Lipsky’s bond develops further as the days pass, although in what direction remains unclear. Does either actually get "closer" to the other? Who, if either, is telling the truth? The film certainly doesn’t hold your hand but, then again, neither did David Foster Wallace.
"The End of the Tour," directed by James Ponsoldt, is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. It will screen Wednesday, Jan. 28, at 9 p.m. at the Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room and Saturday, Jan. 31, at Redstone Cinema 1.