The End of the Tour (2015)
I have often complained about films that tout the label of “based on a true story” or “inspired by actual events.” In many of these cases the factuality of the film becomes the talking point and seemingly the focus of the entire affair. Rather than crafting a fully developed film, it is merely a dramatization of events that can wander into the area of the dull and mundane. They struggle to be engaging stories told with perspective or meaning, limping along as bland recreations. The End of the Tour is none of these things. It is a searching and nuanced film that just so happens to be based on things that actually happened. That is why it is great.
Ponsoldt’s Wallace is a flawed person, not a flawed intellect or a begrudging celebrity, but merely another guy with some very interesting things to say.
Director James Ponsoldt is masterful in his ability to strip away the grandiose and pretentious. No matter the character, he treats each with the utmost respect and imbues them with humility. There is an uncaring of celebrity that he infuses into his films, stripping each and every person down to their most human elements. Sure, this is a film about David Foster Wallace at the height of his fame, but Ponsoldt knows better than to revel in the land of bloated status. It is with an impressive mixture of respect and passion that he has Wallace be a human before everything else for which he may be remembered. The fact that Wallace was a supreme talent, a bit eccentric, and possessed an intellect that would intimidate the most respected scholars are merely attributes of the character. Ponsoldt’s Wallace is a flawed person, not a flawed intellect or a begrudging celebrity, but merely another guy with some very interesting things to say.
Jason Segel’s performance as Wallace carries forward Ponsoldt’s vision with aplomb. Any actor could have studied Wallace closely, adopting all of the necessary mannerisms and vocal cadence, but Segel doesn’t seem at all interested in imitation. He has been made to look the part and it is clear that he has done his homework, however Segel is much more concerned with the spirit of the character. He speaks the words as if they were his own, with immense conviction backing even the most self-centered or deeply intellectual of words. His Wallace eloquently spills out these fantastic streams of brilliant consciousness that are amazingly understandable and hold a desperate vulnerability that leave you aching for the words to never stop. The lengthy thoughts could have easily felt like padded monologues but the honesty in Segel’s performance never even flirts with this minimization.
Segel and Jesse Eisenberg develop a positively charming rapport throughout the film’s build. Eisenberg has become quite good at playing the smart asshole, and while his David Lipsky is certainly more human than Mark Zuckerberg, the inherent arrogance is exceedingly familiar. The flirtatious dickish-ness of his Lipsky balances the charm and sorrow of Segel’s Wallace. There is a surprisingly pleasant awkwardness that lends itself well to the organic humor that arises between the two. The two are placed effectively at odds with one another, Lipsky looking for answers and Wallace set to keep them hidden, and Ponsoldt is sure to maintain this undercurrent. No matter how close the two become, we are always waiting for that other shoe to drop, for their occupations to ruin the connection that is being developed. It is a gradual build that draws you closer and closer, uncaring of how long it takes. It is a lovely give and take that leaves you constantly hoping for more, for the conversations to never end.
The dialogue is complex and wandering, bearing resemblance to the contemplative conversational journeying of early Richard Linklater…
This is all being done in what is essentially a series of conversations. There are no huge plot developments or bombastic arguments. This is simply two people guardedly getting to know one another. The simplicity of its structure compared to the engagement it crafts with its audience speaks to its greater strength. So many pieces are constantly moving within the construct of the film, but on the surface all is seemingly calm. It isn’t a film about David Foster Wallace’s greater career, his thoughtful insights, or battle with depression. It is about this one time and one place and the way that the people that were there lived, simple, dirty, and beautiful.
Throughout The End of the Tour there is a constant sense of purpose. It knows exactly what it is and where it is going. The dialogue is complex and wandering, bearing resemblance to the contemplative conversational journeying of early Richard Linklater, only with a higher degree of intellectualism and less of a sense of off-putting pretension. Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg have fantastic chemistry and communicate a believable relationship that battles its own inherent belligerence. Director James Ponsoldt continues to show his strength at developing immersive character depth. He excels in this area of deep conversation with complex characters that are merely dabbling in each other’s lives. The End of the Tour should probably fall apart before it even gets started, basically existing as one lengthy conversation. However, guided by the steadfast vision of James Ponsoldt and bolstered by a quietly mesmerizing performance from Jason Segel, it is heartbreaking, thought provoking, achingly honest, often quite funny, and endlessly engaging.
The End of the Tour should probably fall apart before it even gets started, basically existing as one lengthy conversation. However, guided by the steadfast vision of James Ponsoldt and bolstered by a quietly mesmerizing performance from Jason Segel, it is heartbreaking, thought provoking, achingly honest, often quite funny, and endlessly engaging.