The End of the Tour (A24, R)

End-of-the-tour 75Jason Segel nails David Foster Wallace’s academic drawl and mannerisms, but ultimately the film has other things on its mind.




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In the past five years, we’ve had a number of films that are presented as if they’re biopics but which in fact only show a very brief period of its subject’s life (think Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln or Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock). And now we have James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour, an adaptation of David Lipsky’s book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, which is a book-length interview with DFW conducted while he was on his author signing tour for his hugely-acclaimed (and plain old huge) novel Infinite Jest back in early 1996 (much of this interview takes place in a car driving on I-55 between Chicago and Bloomington, where Wallace was living at the time, which stretch of road I imagine will be familiar to most of the film’s St. Louis viewers). Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg in the film) was conducting this interview with Wallace (Jason Segel) to the end of writing a profile of him for Rolling Stone, but said profile didn’t come to fruition until after Wallace’s 2008 suicide.

David Foster Wallace’s estate has been vocal about disapproving of The End of the Tour ever since it first went into production, and it doesn’t take much knowledge of Wallace to understand that he himself probably wouldn’t be too happy about the idea, either, were he still alive to voice his displeasure (you need not look any further than Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself itself to get this impression). As such, it’s surely for the best that The End of the Tour isn’t exactly about Wallace, then, and is hardly a biographical picture; sure, the movie’s best lines are verbatim from Although of Course, and Segel nails DFW’s academic drawl and mannerisms, but ultimately the film has other things on its mind.

What’s interesting is that, if it is a biographical work you’re after, the book Although of Course is your best bet for insights into DFW’s character—much more so than D.T. Max’s inexplicably acclaimed traditional biography of the man, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace—and The End of the Tour is a fairly faithful adaptation of Lipsky’s book. But in the change in medium from book to film, the subject becomes less David Foster Wallace and more plain old conversation—conversations about loneliness, mostly, but also literature, fame, movies, junk food, addiction, what it is to be American, and countless other themes of this sort.

The overall level of drama is given a bit of a goose from how it stood in the book—Lipsky flirts with a couple of Wallace’s female friends (which friends appear in the book, but there Lipsky is not depicted as having flirted with them), and he and Wallace get into more heated arguments than the at worst sometimes-peevishness Wallace displays in the book when he’s tired of a certain line of questions. Most of these changes will be transparent even to those who haven’t read the book, as tonally they feel different, and while they’re by and large completely unnecessary, they hardly derail the film, either.

One can only assume it was intentional on Ponsoldt and screenwriter David Margulies’ part that, in the end, The End of the Tour acts as the type of salve for loneliness that Wallace discusses good books as being within the context of the film. Think about it—what’s the last good film you’ve seen that consisted all but solely on one long, engaging conversation? The last one I can recall of this sort was 2003’s criminally underseen Melvin Goes to Dinner. And this is where The End of the Tour’s vitality lies, and the reason I, and countless other people, are sure to return to it many times in the coming years. | Pete Timmermann

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