“The End of the Tour” is an immersive true-story drama starring two actors who give two of the year’s finest performances. For five days back in 1996, Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (played by Oscar-nominee Jesse Eisenberg) travelled with and interviewed prolific, 34-year-old author David Foster Wallace (played by potential Oscar-nominee Jason Segel) as he made his final stops on the promotional tour for his latest book, the 1,079-page, critically praised novel Infinite Jest.
As Lipsky discovers early on, Rolling Stone hadn’t done an author profile in the last 10 years, and he needed to prove to his boss that Wallace was someone worth doing a piece on. Fourteen years later, Lipsky would publish the book this film is based on – Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. Many of the scenes with Eisenberg and Segel take place inside the rental car Lipsky gets for the trip, as he asks Wallace about a variety of topics of his life, including his love of writing, substance abuse issues, and the price that comes with success and fame. But the focus here is also on Lipsky, who is a struggling author and sees Wallace’s life as something to strive for – at least for awhile.
From the first minute they meet, you are completely engrossed in this relationship. Much like in “Frost/Nixon”, there’s a fascinating dynamic taking place between interviewer and interviewee that we have a front row seat for. And it constantly changes throughout the five days, with the tables getting turned and stakes being raised, leaving you always wondering how far both men will go and how much about themselves they will reveal. And Lipsky’s tape recorder becomes a third and very critical character in this relationship, used by both players at times to their advantage.
This is Eisenberg’s best work since “The Social Network”. Joan Cusack has a small, but memorable role as Wallace’s book tour escort. As for Segel, this performance should earn him plenty of Awards Season attention in the Best Supporting Actor category. While his character is the focus of the interview and he has the more showcase role, this is really Lipsky’s story. So, just as J.K. Simmons’ domination of “Whiplash” last year was a Supporting role, so too, is Segel’s work. And it’s just as much of a powerhouse. He displays Wallace’s pain, joy, humor and sadness through both words and actions. The dialogue between these two characters, the philosophies they share, reveal their loneliness and insecurities. Wallace’s beliefs on world’s obsession with television and the media are incredibly on target (and even more meaningful 20 years later). They make the scenes in which he’s glued to the movie screen and hotel TV even more profound.
Writers, journalists and storytellers at all levels will relate to and embrace everything “The End of the Tour” stands for. Director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”) and writer Donald Marguiles (this is his feature film screenwriting debut) condense a typical relationship arc of two people over a lifetime into just a handful of days, but the complexities of this film will stay with you for a long time.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The End of the Tour” gets an A.
Running Time: 106 min.