The End of the Tour (2015)
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Too often, films described as “meaningful” or “deep” are also pretentious and fake. Intelligent characters normally seem like they’re above you. Not so with “The End of the Tour.” Shortly after novelist David Foster Wallace (played by Jason Segel) penned the gargantuan “Infinite Jest,” Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) got permission to write a piece about the final leg of Wallace’s national book tour. As the men talked extensively, both in Wallace’s home and while travelling to Minneapolis, Wallace opened up about his writing process and other less relevant things, while remaining standoffish when Lipsky wanted to talk about anything personal. When Wallace finally began pulling back the curtains, Lipsky realized that Wallace was more complex than his story could ever begin to characterize.
As far as plot is concerned, that’s about it. “The End of the Tour” has no story arc and no major climax. It’s steadily good, but never exciting. It doesn’t need to be. If the purpose of a biopic is to instill humanity into its subject, I’m not sure I’ve seen one more effective than “The End of the Tour.” First-time screenwriter Donald Marguilies allows Segel to reveal Wallace’s deepest insecurities, to show him as more than just a celebrated writer. In the film, Wallace says that he believes his “regular guyness” is his most defining quality. I would argue it’s also Jason Segel’s. His towering performance vaults him from the C-list to a possible Oscar nomination. The recognition wouldn’t be undeserved. The emotive Segel charges his character with a passion that we rarely see on screen. Segel bleeds into the role in a way that renders him unrecognizable. Maybe it’s because his biggest movie roles have been in underperforming and frequently unfunny comedies. Now that he has the first powerful dramatic role under his belt, you can bet he’ll have another soon. By comparison, Jesse Eisenberg lacks a certain punch. But by comparison, few wouldn’t. Segel’s performance commandeers “The End of the Tour” like few leading roles are able to do. He’s a show-stopper. But throughout, he remains true to the subject. Wallace lives in a humble, regular guy home in small-town Indiana and teaches at a college down the road. Segel never pretends that Wallace is something that he’s not. Wallace is a complicated character who can’t be defined in a single word, so Segel gives him dimension and humanity.
“The End of the Tour” is a focused biopic that lets its stars take the reins. Using what could be an Oscar-worthy screenplay, Segel and Eisenberg deliver a love letter to the complexities of human emotions. I think it would have made David Foster Wallace proud.