by Alan Yudman
David Foster Wallace. The brilliant, troubled and now deceased writer won acclaim for changing the voice of American writing. And it only took him 46 years to do it before taking his own life because of inescapable depression. Back when his novel, “Infinite Jest” was published another writer thought there would be a story in profiling Wallace for Rolling Stone. David Lipsky pitched that to his bosses and they went for it. So Lipsky joined Wallace for the last five days of his book tour and that revelatory five days is the framework for James Ponsoldt’s wonderful THE END OF THE TOUR. Ponsoldt has been around for a while, but he really blew up with 2013’s THE SPECTACULAR NOW. T.E.O.T.T. is at least that film’s equal. So many times I watch a movie and my mind wanders, I think about other things and then get back to the narrative and don’t feel I’ve missed a beat. Maybe it’s a little ADHD. About 10 minutes into this film I realized that I would have to pay close attention because there was some important stuff happening up there on the screen. The film is about a five day long conversation so by nature it is very “talky”. That is not intended as a criticism in this case. Every word that comes out of the Wallace character’s mouth feels like it needs to be heard, learned and remembered. The casting is genius. Jesse Eisenberg plays the frustrated Lipsky. He’s written a novel but is writing for Rolling Stone to make a buck. He doesn’t seem happy about it at all. Eisenberg’s natural skittishness works great. The real revelation for me was Jason Segel. We know he can play comedy, but this was something deeper and more soul wrenching. He hits every note perfectly. Wallace is kind of a gentle giant with a ton of “issues” lurking beneath a skin of self-loathing and insecurity. Lipsky has said he felt Wallace was giving him what he thought he wanted as a writer for Rolling Stone, for example hoping to get laid on the book tour. But as the two spend time together you start seeing Wallace for the true genius/mess that he is. His anger in certain situations seethes rather than boils. Segel understands how to play that gentle, troubled giant perfectly. T.E.O.T.T. is funny, insightful, moving and ultimately tragic. It is based on Lipsky’s book (Rolling Stone never went with the profile), “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” which chronicles his five days with Wallace. It’s brilliantly adapted by Donald Margulies and Ponsoldt hits all the right notes using the bleakness of Illinois in winter to frame Wallace’s struggle. I always like a movie that makes me think. THE END OF THE TOUR has me thinking, has me wanting to explore Wallace’s writing. I can’t think of higher praise for a film.