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The End of the Tour dir. by James Ponsoldt

August 24, 2015

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I was skeptical when I heard they were making a film out of David Lipsky’s book, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Not only would it be difficult to distill five days of interview transcripts into a compelling story, but to cast someone to play David Foster Wallace seemed impossible. When I heard that Jason Segal had been cast in the role, I cringed.

There are times when it feels good to be proved wrong. I caught a late show last night at a small art theater in Oakland. I was one of five nerds in attendance. And I thought the whole movie was fantastic. Segal lives up to the larger-than-life task of portraying Wallace (it took about 10 minutes before I was satisfied that he could pull it off and stopped being distracted by it). Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Lipsky, is also great. A little more expected as he’s a better actor and it’s an easier role. But he creates a sympathetic character out of Lipsky, who I found a little annoying in the book. There was a good article in The New Yorker the other day about how well Eisenberg personifies the central challenge for any journalist. Essentially, how to do your job and be a genuine person. Which comes first?

That is one of the central themes of the movie, and in hindsight the characters are actually perfectly suited to play out a very nuanced, un-Hollywood conflict. Part of the job of any journalist is to mine a subject (or person) for story, then whip that story into some kind of narrative structure that is compelling and, ideally, true. It is an exploitative venture. As Lipsky’s movie boss tells him over the phone, “You’re not there to make friends” (or something to that effect). But his subject in this case is someone obsessed with image, paranoid of that exact thing—that his story will be spun into something sensational, that he will come off as a d-bag using Rolling Stone as a vehicle to sell more books.

This is true, of course. As the Lipsky character says several times, “You agreed to this interview.” In other words, this is a contract. A mutually beneficial arrangement. An artifice. Neither of them are quite comfortable with that. They genuinely like each other, but they never quite let down their guard. Wallace never fully trusts Lipsky, and Lipsky constantly fuels this distrust by doing his job—by turning his tape recorder on and off, by sneaking a peek into Wallace’s medicine cabinet, by asking him questions like the one about Wallace’s rumored heroine addiction.

I wanted these guys to get along. That is the compelling frustration. Each is uptight in his own way, and you want them to just cut loose. They never quite do in each other’s presence. But at the very end, after Lipsky has left to return to New York, we see Wallace letting it go––at a dance at a nearby Baptist church, of all places. “Those Baptists can dance,” he tells an unbelieving Lipsky. This moment of abandon, of joy on Segal as Wallace’s face, this is as good an ending as the movie could have. It is no secret how Wallace’s real life ended. But that moment of joy we see at the end of the movie, we hope that was real, that it really happened.

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