Monday, August 17, 2015

THE END OF THE TOUR: A Hangout Movie About Being Hung Up

Now playing at an indie art house near me:

THE END OF THE TOUR (Dir. James Ponsoldt, 2015)

I have to confess that I’ve never read any of the late David Foster Wallace’s work, but after seeing this thoughtful, insightful and thoroughly moving movie, his highly touted 1,079-page novel “Infinite Jest” has rocketed to the top of my list.

The film is centered around Wallace, played by Jason Segel, being accompanied by journalist David Linsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg, to Minneapolis for the last stop on the promotional book tour for “Infinite Jest” in the winter of 1996.

Linsky is doing a profile of Wallace for Rolling Stone, that he says will be about “what it’s like to be the most talked about writer in the country.” Linsky’s editor (Ron Livingston) approves his pitch to do the piece on the condition that he asks Wallace if the rumors of his heroin use are true.

Linsky is a big fan of Wallace, and wishes that his writing was as successful, as his own novel “The Art Fair” failed to make much of a splash in the literary world. Linsky is even annoyed that his girlfriend (an extremely underused Anna Chlumsky) seems to like Wallace’s work better than his.

“He wants something better than he has, I want precisely what he has already,” is how Linsky succinctly sums up the situation. The two meet at Wallace’s suburban house in Bloomington, Illinois where he lives with two dogs, and their rambling yet consistently fascinating conversation begins.

In the first of many scenes set in diners, Wallace senses Linsky’s nervousness and reassures him by saying that he’s terrified too and that they’ll get through it together.

Then the two Davids bond over a junk food run to a convenience store (“if we ate like this all the time, what would be wrong with that?”), and continue their conversing at Wallace’s house over smokes and R.E.M. on the stereo (I swear that “Perfect Circle” played twice in the background before going on to the next song on “Murmur,” “Catapult” but that’s neither here nor there).

The next day, Linsky and Wallace fly to Minneapolis where they are greeted by the always welcome Joan Cusack as Patty, a perky, quirky book tour escort, who drives the two to Wallace’s scheduled events including a bookstore reading and a radio interview. During their time in town, they also get lost in Mall of America, and take in a movie there: the dumb John Travolta action flick BROKEN ARROW funnily enough.

At the bookstore appearance, Wallace introduces Linsky to a couple of female friends, Betsy (Mickey Sumner), who Wallace used to date, and Julie (Mamie Gummer - you know, Meryl Streep’s daughter) as a groupie turned friend. Wallace and Linsky hang with the two ladies at Gummer’s apartment because she has a TV, but the evening gets a bit tense when Wallace thinks that Linsky is hitting on his ex flame. After a period of barely speaking the following day, their last one together, they hash it out and Linsky finally puts the heroin question to Wallace.

THE END OF THE TOUR, director James Ponsoldt’s follow-up to last year’s much buzzed about THE SPECTACULAR NOW, is a hangout movies about being hung up. As fame approaches, Wallace wants to be seen as a regular guy whose only addiction is television, but Linsky questions this: “You don’t crack open a 1,000-page book because the author’s a regular guy. You do it because he’s brilliant…So who the fuck are you kidding?”

The spectre of Wallace’s suicide twelve years after the events here can’t help but loom over the proceedings, but Segel’s warmth and humor as Wallace is so in the moment that we can forget that he’s ultimately a tragic figure. This is undoubtedly Segel’s most layered and lived-in performance, and it’s probably the most accomplished acting by any of the Freaks and Geeks alumni. Sorry, James Franco.

Eisenberg holds his own with Segel, but his part isn’t anything we haven’t seen him do before. If you want to get a slice of Eisenberg with a twist, see AMERICAN ULTRA.

Scripted by Donald Margulies (DINNER WITH FRIENDS) from Linsky’s 2010 book “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” THE END OF THE TOUR is somehow simultaneously breezy and deep. It’s like one of those late night talks that feels initially feels laid back, but, in the middle of all the shooting the shit there’s some heavy soul barring going on.

Put another way, in this series of loose chats between these two soul searching writers, there’s one of the best movies of the year going on.

More later...

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