I’m glad to have finally seen End of the Tour, and as it is still playing in theaters nationwide, I feel impelled to recommend it. It’s never too late to catch up with a film this special and satisfying. James Ponsoldt, who won me over with The Spectacular Now, adds another feather to his cap with his treatment of this challenging two-character piece, scripted by Donald Margulies. And I won’t soon forget the penetrating performances of Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg.
Eisenberg plays David Lipsky, a writer who—upon hearing news of the suicide of David Foster Wallace in 2008—digs out the audiocassettes of his conversations with the author. With that, we flash back twelve years to the week he spent with Wallace at his home in Bloomington, Illinois and on the last stop of a book tour promoting his groundbreaking novel An Infinite Jest.
Other people pop in and out of the narrative, but this is essentially the story of two writers and their probing, tenuous relationship over a short span of days. Lipsky is nervous and not a little envious as he tries to get to know the hottest author of the moment. Wallace is willfully eccentric, a loner who is aware that people are suddenly interested in knowing everything about him—from rumors of past drug abuse to his habit of wearing a bandana on his head.
Segel catches every nuance of this complex, quicksilver figure, who wants to be seen as a “regular guy,” consuming junk food and playing with his dogs, yet cognizant of the fact that after years of obscurity he is now seen as a major literary figure. He has reluctantly agreed to this interview, but with Lipsky’s pocket tape recorder shoved in his face, he worries how he will be perceived in the finished magazine profile. (Although commissioned for Rolling Stone, the piece was never published; it emerged as a book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace in 2010.)
Eisenberg is equally impressive as the hyper-tense interviewer who tries to establish a friendly relationship without crossing certain journalistic lines. A reporter in his position has to be both a seducer and an inquisitor, but he genuinely admires Wallace and doesn’t want to betray the trust the author has bestowed upon him. (The film should be required viewing for aspiring journalists.)
Segel and Eisenberg play off each other like two great tennis pros at the top of their game; each one enhances the other. Eisenberg has played this kind of neurotic guy before, but that doesn’t take away from his achievement. Segel, on the other hand, is revelatory in a masterful performance that never strikes a false note. End of the Tour is one of the best films of 2015.