Sunday, August 2, 2015

Review: The End of the Tour

Image courtesy of A24.
James Ponsoldt's "The End of the Tour" is a fascinating picture, not only due to its intimate story that keeps company with two writers, one of whom was hailed among the best of his generation, on a road trip, but also due to some of the controversy surrounding the film.

I typically - in fact, virtually never - take he-said-she-said arguments into account when reviewing a film. For example, I could care less whether Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson actually had the conversations portrayed in "Selma" as those scenes were used to further the story and they were not egregious.

So, I take into account that - in the case of "The End of the Tour" - I'm watching a movie about actual people with some possibly fictional sequences. I have no problem with that, although those who have been against the film from the beginning might have a reasonable bone to pick with the film's depiction of David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel, who is quite good here).

It's been noted that an aura of gloom, depression and suicide is hinted at throughout the film as Wallace opens up to Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (a very good Jesse Eisenberg). The book tour during which Lipsky follows Wallace was in 1996, while the author's suicide didn't happen until 2008. So, the complaints that Wallace coming off as a depressive and possibly suicidal person more than a decade before he actually died is a valid complaint. Perhaps, Ponsoldt and company did not intend to foreshadow Wallace's eventual suicide, but the film often drops hints that could be interpreted as such.

Getting that out of the way, "The End of the Tour" is still a good movie with two strong performances at its center. Eisenberg plays Lipsky as a pushy reporter who wants to get the best story out of his time spent with Wallace, whom he obviously respects, but also a guy attempting to do the right thing. As Wallace, Segel displays dramatic talents before unseen, portraying Wallace as a man who wants to be seen as ordinary - he lives in a modest home in Illinois and worries constantly that people will think more highly of him than he believes himself to deserve - but is clearly someone of great talent.

Although the film is not confined to one room - Lipsky follows Wallace during a promotional tour for "Infinite Jest," his most acclaimed work - it reminded me slightly of Louis Malle's wonderful "My Dinner with Andre," in that both films are centered completely around conversation and any sort of character development must be gleaned from the characters' words.

At one point late in the film, Lipsky reads to a crowd about his experience shadowing Wallace during the book tour and calls their tete a tetes "the best conversation [he'd] ever had." And that is what ultimately makes "The End of the Tour" work. It's a film centered around conversation between two people who are interesting to hear. I can take into account the critiques of the film based on Wallace's portrayal, but I still think the film works and is a great showcase for two very good performances.

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