“When You Finish Saving the World” premiered at Sundance in January 2022. Even with the pedigrees of star Julianne Moore, writer/director Jesse Eisenberg and producer Emma Stone, A24 decided to hold onto the film for an entire year before releasing it.
Would it have made some noise this awards season if A24 had even given it a Christmas week open? Probably not. However, “When You Finish” shouldn’t be looked at as an afterthought. Eisenberg (who adapts from his own Audible content) packs plenty of truth and compelling material into 90 minutes.
Moore plays Evelyn. She’s a Smart Car driving former hippie, current mom/wife and social worker. She runs a shelter for domestic abuse victims. She’s proud of the work she does. She’s less than proud of son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard, from “It” and “Stranger Things”). He’s an incredibly self-absorbed, high school senior, who only cares about his “career” as a songwriter and the money he makes from his online livestream channel.
Their relationship is free-spirited, borderline-toxic — making for an edgy, dysfunctional home life for all — including husband/father Roger. The underused Jay O. Sanders has some of the film’s funniest moments.
This movie is about looking for love — from that you can’t find at home. Ziggy takes interest in a girl at school who, like his mom, is politically, socially and environmental aware. Meantime, Evelyn becomes obsessed with one of Ziggy’s classmates who comes to live at the shelter with his mother.
Eisenberg comes out of the gate swinging. Early on, it feels like he’s trying to make every line of dialogue and every character movement a profound event. “When You Finish” teeters on being intellectually annoying… until about the half-hour mark when the narrative settles into a comfortable uncomfortable vibe.
Awkwardness oozes beautifully from practically every scene. Both Evelyn and Ziggy are flawed, unlikeable characters. Because of their tone-deaf behavior, we’re not necessarily unhappy to see them struggle. Yet, I found myself rooting for them as well. This is a testament to Moore and Wolfhard’s smart, on-key performances. I just wish how it all plays out wasn’t so predictable and inevitable.
In the end, “When You Finish” is a watchable, slightly abstract entry into the quirky teen, slice of life, dysfunctional family genre — and a promising directorial feature debut for Eisenberg.
LCJ GRADE: B-
Running Time: 88 min.