The End of the Tour

Posted by Joel Copling on August 3, 2015

Just in the previous fortnight, two separate and very controversial interviews were released on YouTube. Well, I say "interviews," although I'm not entirely sure the word should describe what amounts to a quick, painless, on-camera Q&A. Anyway, the first of them was between Cara Delevingne (star of the solid recent adaptation of "Paper Towns") and a trio of morning-show anchors in Sacramento, California, who clearly didn't prepare anything and decided, instead, to ask impertinent questions about her sleep patterns and general attitude during press tours. Not long after, Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan, and Kate Mara (stars of the upcoming "Fantastic Four" reboot) endured an Atlanta radio interview with two men who could not let impertinent details about the plot of a film they hadn't seen yet go unnoticed, before freaking out over Mara's newly short haircut.

I start off this review of "The End of the Tour" with these anecdotes, because this is ideally the movie such journalists need right now. We live in times when the currental societal decorum for the interviewing process has more or less flown the proverbial coop. It was unlikely ever perfect, but there was once a time when those of the pen and pad understood that the process was always meant to be an act of give-and-take. There are, again ideally, two people locked in a practice meant to unearth whatever makes the subject of the interview tick. It's about both the questioned and the one questioning. Now, it seems like we've lost that simplicity for something too simple: Get in, ask the questions, get out, avoid depth that could lead to the compromise of an ethical code. It's become a forest with no trees. There is no unpacking of egos anymore.

The interview at the center of "The End of the Tour" is one about dueling egos. One man has been instructed to "be a prick" if necessary when it comes to whether the other man has, indeed, used heroin in the past. The other man's reaction when it comes up is inevitable but no less sad had it been an overreaction (which, given what learn about him, would not be unwarranted). See the problem here: We inherently understand that David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), upon whose book Donald Margulies' screenplay is based, has a job to do and that journalism is a business, like any other, that thrives on thoroughness and professionalism, but we also don't learn that his editor (Ron Livingston) wants that heroin angle pretty badly until we come to realize that David's professionalism should not be at the expense of the dignity of his subject.

His subject, of course, is David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), that outwardly unassuming man who took the writing world by storm in the mid-1990s with his book "Infinite Jest." He's a real character, with eyes that lock onto the person to whom he is talking and seemingly are able to perceive everything about a person within a few short conversations. Oh, not to the point that he knows whether he likes someone, which he makes clear to the other David over lunch on the day of their meeting. But you can tell that, as soon as his eyes meet another person's, the cogs start turning and he's analyzing everything immediately. His words, meanwhile, are that analysis transformed into literate, terse compartmentalizations of his ideas that are nevertheless loaded with some pretty spot-on philosophical observations (Needless to say, I'll be buying the book at hand pretty soon).

A lot of this lies in Segel's performance, which adopts Wallace's airy tone, not merely as an impersonation, but as a characteristic tic, something that melts away when he stops speaking and those sad eyes fall and seem to empty of any remaining emotion. Eisenberg is also excellent at portraying David's restless sort of energy (a quality for the actor has become quite famous), which could also probably be described as "nervous;" the bookending segments, set shortly after Foster Wallace's suicide in 2008, are especially moving.

There is some blustery coldness at the edges of Margulies' screenplay, especially when it comes to how the film deals with some ancillary characters, and director James Ponsoldt's eye behind the camera is the opposite of forceful. "The End of the Tour" is still an affecting account of two men who needed this interview of the ages as a way of confronting their own insecurities across the barrier of a tape recorder.

Film Information

Jesse Eisenberg (David Lipsky), Jason Segel (David Foster Wallace), Anna Chlumsky (Sarah), Mickey Sumner (Betsy), Mamie Gummer (Julie), Joan Cusack (Patty), Ron Livingston (David's Editor).

Directed by James Ponsoldt and written by Donald Margulies, based on the book "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself" by David Lipsky.

Rated R (language including sexual references).

106 minutes.

Released in select cities on July 31, 2015.