The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace's groundbreaking epic novel, 'Infinite Jest.'
A journalist and a famous writer – both of them young, insecure men still trying to make their literary reputations – spend five days together, talking incessantly, arguing and forging a kind of wary understanding. The year is 1996 and the brilliant, troubled writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal) is publicising his acclaimed 1000-page novel Infinite Jest. He’s being called ‘the voice of a generation’ and has acquired a kind of rock star status, especially among nerdy, self-conscious, cynical Americans. The journalist who’s interviewing him for Rolling Stone magazine, David Lipsky (Jessie Eisenberg) is envious and admiring. Having published his own autobiographical novel to small acclaim, Lipsky is like a nervy bowerbird, collecting shiny bits of rubbish about the more famous man. It’s as if he thinks he might create his own masterpiece from snippets of conversation and random details about the interior decoration of Foster Wallace’s bland and messy suburban bungalow (two big, slobbery dogs, a beach towel used as a curtain, a postcard picture of John Updike on the fridge).
There’s an obscenity about celebrity profiling – the attempt to capture the complexity and essence of another human being and serve it up in a juicy word salad for the entertainment of lazy readers. The End of the Tour is based on Lipsky’s memoir Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, published after DFW’s suicide in 2008 and based around their tape-recorded conversations. And while the project attempts to critique itself, shining a light on the contradictions and obscenities of celebrity profiling, and depicting Lipsky as the unlikeable thief (particularly alarming when he’s snooping inside the writer’s bathroom cabinet), it’s impossible not to see the film as yet another cashing in on DFW’s fame and tragedy – in a way that he would have loathed if he’d lived.
Jason Segal gives a wonderful performance (perhaps his best yet) as DWF, capturing perfectly the writer’s delivery of long and rambling sentences, awash in biting cultural criticism, humourous insight and touching humility.
With greasy hair, round metal-rimmed specs, beard and bandana, Jason Segal gives a wonderful performance (perhaps his best yet) as DWF, capturing perfectly the writer’s delivery of long and rambling sentences, awash in biting cultural criticism, humourous insight and touching humility. He’s painted here as painfully self-conscious, surprisingly generous, and desperate to be known as an ordinary American everyman. Which of course he isn’t, or why would anyone bother to read his weighty, intricate and heavily footnoted doorstopper of a novel? This is a question Lipsky asks again and again as the two men drive the flat landscape, smoke copious cigarettes, eat junk food and watch crappy television together.
Directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) with a script by Donald Margulies, The End of the Tour is often highly entertaining in its interrogation of fame. There are moments of mystery, like the scene in which Lipsky sneaks through DFW’s house and comes upon the writer’s darkened study with his old desktop computer, lonely and abandoned on a desk. This is the place where the painful magic happens and nobody can really touch it, understand it, or replicate it, certainly not on film, and the camera shies away, as if recognising this is too personal to intrude upon.
Ultimately though, the film feels flat and graceless, like the American landscape the writers traverse. Perhaps the lack of cinematic beauty, and the dramatic sameness of most scenes are intentional, but the occasional lyricism in the soundtrack and the score (composed by Danny Elfman) make you long for a different kind of film; one where the final insight is more profound and moving than the one we’re given here: 'He made us feel less alone.'
The End of the Tour is currently in limited release in Victoria.
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