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REVIEW - End of the Tour - 4 out of 5 Stars


REVIEW - End of the Tour - 4 out of 5 Stars 

By Don Gibble

Many journalists who have written feature profiles of public figures will have experienced that light-bulb moment, once the cautious mutual-assessment phase is concluded and you start digging for the meat, when the subject perhaps casually reveals some illuminating aspect of him or herself around which the entire article can be built. Those moments come thick and fast in “The End of the Tour”, James Ponsoldt’s exquisite film about David Foster Wallace, examined over the course of a five day interview with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, 12 years before the influential writer’s suicide in 2008 at age 46.

The same compassionate observation of human imperfections that distinguished Ponsoldt’s films “Smashed” and “The Spectacular Now” makes him an ideal interpreter of this material, while playwright Donald Margulies’ thoughtful screenplay brings tremendous insight into the way writers’ minds work. This is no conventional biodrama about the tortured artist, but very much the film that lovers of Wallace’s dazzingly fiction and essays would want.

     Over the opening scenes, Jesse Eisenberg, playing Lipsky, describes reading Wallace as feeling your eyelids pulled open, and providing the actual sensation of being David Foster Wallace. That process of osmosis is an accurate enough description of what the filmmakers achieve, invaluably assisted by Jason Segel’s heartbreaking portrayal of the writer. This is a man of endless contradictions; he’s shaggy and sleepy-headed but sharp and always questioning, wryly candid but then unexpectedly defensive and guarded. The performance is easily Segel’s best work since “Freaks and Geeks”, devastating strictly on its own quiet terms.

Having read the rhapsodic reviews of Wallace’s encyclopedic 1,079-page 1996 novel “Infinite Jest” and then been somewhat crushed to find they weren’t exaggerating, Lipsky, himself a published fiction author of more modest success, pitched a feature to Rolling Stone, a magazine with scant history of profiling writers. He accompanied Wallace on the final leg of his book tour, but the interview was never published, its intimate revelations surfacing only later as a memoir following the subject’s untimely death.

A handful of actors make lasting impressions in small roles, among them Anna Chlumsky as Lipsky’s girlfriend, Mamie Gummer as Wallace’s friend and admirer and Joan Cusack as Wallace’s amusingly down-to-earth driver on that final tour stop. The assignment takes Lipsky from New York to the untidy home of Wallace where he lives with his two big dogs in Bloomington, IL. Their interactions are tentative at first, with Wallace voicing his feelings about the interview by suggesting he’d like to write a profile on the people who have attempted to profile him. The body language of the two leads could hardly be more of a contrast. Eisenberg is small and wiry. He makes Lipsky both worshipful and slightly predatory, but he never losesthe audience’s sympathy; his character clearly believes that a genuine relationship has been formed and, for as long as possible, he resists the urging of his editor to grill Wallace about rumors of his heroin addiction.

For a movie that’s almost entirely driven by talk, this has a graceful fluidity thanks to Jakob Ihre’s elegant cinematography and Darrin Navarro’s editing, moving the action smoothly from place to place with unerring rhythm. And Danny Elfman’s gentle score serves to delicately coax out the story’s underlying sorrow. A movie to be savored.