Lesson one: If there is a pun to be made in a title, I will make it.
Lesson two: A David Foster Wallace movie? Why???
In The End of the TOUR, by The Spectacular Now director James Pondsoldt, Jason Segel plays Infinite Jest writer David Foster Wallace, cult classic fave of the 20-something male set, as he finishes up a 1996 book tour. He’s trailed around by Jesse Eisenberg playing Jesse Eisenberg David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone reporter writing a piece on Wallace and his sudden, monumental success, both critical and popular.
The movie’s not awful. Both actors are solid. Scratch that–Segel is EXCELLENT, and if you’ve been reading the phrase “Oscar nominated” attached to his performance, well, he deserves it. And Jesse Eisenberg plays Jesse Eisenberg. Which he’s good at. Because he’s Jesse Eisenberg.
Ponsoldt’s movie, adapted by Donald Margulies from Lipsky’s book about his experience travelling with Wallace, is at its best when tensions between Wallace and Lipsky are highest. These two complete strangers are put together in a contrived situation where they have to try and achieve some sort of false intimacy in a very short period of time, and it brings out their worst qualities. Lipsky’s a bit of a jealous starfucker. Wallace, though all-around the more likable of the two, has a bit of the eau de pretentious narcissist about him. Wallace hates his fame, Lipsky his lack of it. Each of them wants to be the other.
So far, so good.
Where the movie falls apart, for me, is that in between scenes developing the tension between Wallace and Lipsky, we get long stretches of a be’recorder-ed Lipsky picking Wallace’s brain for every smidgen of insight about technology and fame and pop culture and the nature of human connection. And… look, maybe some of this was insightful back in 1993? I don’t know. I was nine. But nothing Wallace says hasn’t been repeated ad nauseam since by endless self-important college bros high on their first philosophy course and how it OPENED THEIR EYES TO WHAT REALLY MATTERS IN THE WORLD, BRO. A testament to Wallace’s influence? Maybe. Thoroughly uninteresting? Definitely.
At one point in Tour, Wallace and Lipsky talk about how the majority of Wallace’s fanbase is white, male college students. The moment was a little weird for me, because… that’s what the movie is, too, then. You basically just admitted it. If you’re not already invested in Wallace as a person, there is very, very little for you here. I am not a fan of Wallace. I’m not-not a fan, either. I tried to read Infinite Jest once and couldn’t make it through. Whatever. It wasn’t for me. Maybe I’ll try again someday. But, in order to make me interested in itself, The End of the Tour had to make me interested in David Foster Wallace, and it
No disrespect to Segel, who, again, did a great job and delivered seemingly endless philosophical bloviations about how LOOKING AT A SCREEN ALL THE TIME MEANS WE DON’T REALLY CONNECT WITH EACH OTHER, Y’KNOW? Y ‘KNOW? in such an earnest, charming fashion that I didn’t want to punch him in the face, which is really the best outcome that could have been hoped for here.