The End of the Tour focuses on a long weekend in the life of deceased author David Foster Wallace, whose 1996 novel, Infinite Jest, became a literary sensation and cultural touchstone for an entire generation. Bolstered by two terrific performances by Jason Segel (as Wallace) and Jesse Eisenberg (as then Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky), the film has been confidently directed by James Ponsoldt (who previously helmed the strong indies Smashed and The Spectacular Now) and sensitively written by Donald Margulies, who based his script on Lipsky’s best-selling memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.
The action covers the period of time where Lipsky stayed at Wallace’s house, conducting a lengthy interview, in the aftermath of the Infinite Jest publicity and success. The film is very talky, very literate, very smart, and most of all, very sad, as death hangs over the entire film, and the wintry setting sets an immediately chilly tone that suggests isolation and mental despair. Wallace was a man who reportedly suffered some intense personal demons, and while this film is nothing like a traditional biopic, you definitely get the sense, in only an hour and 40 minutes, that he had a lot of inner turmoil to sort out, with feelings of inadequacy and self-resentment. But as played by Segel, he was also a man capable of great friendship, compassion (love the dogs), and keen humanistic understanding, able to decipher life’s strangest moments and put them into a thoughtfully arranged flow of words. Eisenberg does classic Eisenberg here, and as always, there’s something going on in those shifty and potentially deceiving eyes; he’s also the sort of actor who can really make dialogue sing. And because this film is almost solely dependent on its script, it needed to be strong, and the work here by Margulies is nothing short of beautiful, with line and after line hitting with dramatic force and resonating with poignancy.
Visually, the film is solid if a bit solemn, but that was likely a creative decision; the flat, mid-America landscape seems a perfect atmospheric highlight. Danny Elfman’s score is unobtrusive but always effective.