The End of the Tour review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
For what is essentially a conversation between a journalist and an author, End of the Tour carries with it an ever-present sadness underneath all its wit and honesty. You can sense that these two people just want to be the most transparent, smart and creative people in the room. There’s also a fear to their intentions that maybe they won’t be as good a person as they can or should be. It’s a relationship that lasts for five days, but packs enough drama to last a lifetime.
Based on true events in 1996, Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky is overjoyed to finally be given the green light on an interview with famed novelist David Foster Wallace. He arrives at his quaint little home in the snowy midwest. Wallace greets his guest with playful dogs and a cautious sincerity. This is a writer who wants to be honest with Lipsky, but is fearful that the whole story will be distorted. Likewise, Lipsky idolizes Wallace’s work that he tries to tread lightly in his questioning. There is a shyness at first, but they soon open up to each other with amazing conversations about life over junk food and pancakes.
What needs to be addressed right away are the fantastic performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel. Both have been adept at playing the awkward men of comedy, but here they find an awkward nature that is sweet and sad for these real characters. Eisenberg plays Lipsky with a certain enthusiasm, but unsure nature about how he wants to proceed with his life. Segel plays Wallace as an older man who finds himself weary of reporters, but also defensive about being genuine. He constantly questions the validity of Lipsky’s interview process and just how he will be seen. Likewise, Lipsky finds himself shredding Wallace’s stants on being sober and talking to women.
Lipsky’s interview finds him following Wallace to Minneapolis on his book tour where he learns more about the man in his element. He watches Wallace at a book reading and notices how he seems to be more of a calm charmer than a nervous wreck. He takes note of how Wallace comes across on the radio when speaking with NPR in a candid manner. He finds it fascinating how when Wallace takes some of his female fans out for a movie, he chooses the simplistic action picture Broken Arrow. During the movie, Wallace seems more invested and involved than anyone else in the theater. Both Lipsky and Wallace become puzzling men struggling to understand one another which takes a tragic turn for their relationship.
The movie carries a tearful tone throughout and not just because it begins with Lipsky learning of Wallace’s suicide. Rarely are the more depressing moments of Wallace’s life fully explored in his conversations with Lipsky. They only come out in small bits and pieces when contemplating children, fame, television and drinking. Their conversations range from deeply intriguing to charmingly humorous. And yet through all the intelligence being slung back and forth, you can sense there is something missing. There’s a deep spiritual fulfillment that has yet to be filled by these two men. Perhaps it will never be filled as implied by Wallace’s eventual suicide.
The movie is shot beautifully with a rustic midwestern charm. Wallace’s house feels very homey in the snowy winter settings - dogs trotting around inside and hot water on the stove. Their journey through Minnesota carries the cold and comfy atmosphere of the state being that the movie was actually shot on location. As a Minnesotan, however, there is one minor gripe that became distracting with the locations. Wallace and Lipsky spend their day after a radio interview at the Mall of America. Being that this takes place in 1996, the theme park within the mall was Camp Snoopy and not Nickelodeon Universe. To get around this for a great shot where Lipsky and Wallace share thoughts at the food court, the entire theme park appears with colored out signs and displays. This seems like such a silly complaint, but it’s hard not to smirk when such an iconic aspect of the mall is censored out.
The End of the Tour is sad without being depressing and smart without being pompous. It encapsulates the anguish of a writer who wants to be properly heard and understood, but may not want to suffer the media circus of being artificial. You care for both Wallace and Lipsky as well-meaning writers who have flaws they fear to approach that threaten their relationship. It’s endlessly infatuating in trying to analyze these two figures and what shaped their passing of ships in the night.