Based on the memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky, The End of the Tour is the story of Lipsky interviewing novelist David Foster Wallace in a five-day tour promoting Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest. Directed by James Ponsoldt and screenplay by Donald Marguiles, the film is a dramatic re-telling of Lipsky’s recordings with Wallace during this promotional trip as Lipsky gets to know the gifted but troubled novelist as he deals with newfound fame and expectations as Jesse Eisenberg plays Lipsky and Jason Segel as Wallace. Also starring Anna Chlumsky, Ron Livingston, Mamie Gummer, Mickey Sumner, and Joan Cusack. The End of the Tour is a compelling and somber film from James Ponsoldt.
Set almost entirely in the winter of 1996, the film revolves around a writer/journalist in David Lipsky as he is given an assignment to interview novelist David Foster Wallace during a five-day promotional tour for his best-selling novel Infinite Jest which has garnered loads of acclaim with Wallace being positioned as one of the greats. Yet, the film is really more about a man trying to get to know this novelist for a piece for Rolling Stone magazine yet both deal with their own issues in being lonely with Wallace struggling to deal with newfound fame as well as rumors about himself. Donald Marguiles’ screenplay is largely straightforward though it begins in 2008 where Lipsky gets the news of Wallace’s suicide as he goes over audio tapes that he recorded during their 1996 road trip as he reflects on that experience. The five-day tour that is a bit of a road trip with a flight from Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to Minneapolis where Lipsky and Wallace deal with the promotion as the former is trying to see if all of these claims of greatness towards the latter are really true.
James Ponsoldt’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of the compositions he creates as well as taking a simple story about a five-day promotional tour and turn it into this study of fame, expectations, and adulation. Shot largely on location in Michigan as well as additional locations in New York City and Minneapolis, the film plays into a moment in time where books were still big as well as pre-Internet media where both Lipsky and Wallace talk about its potential power. While there are some wide shots in some of the locations that the characters go to, much of the direction is intimate whether it’s in a car, a diner, a hotel room, or at a house through medium shots and close-ups. Notably as it play into two men just talking and trying to get to know each other as Lipsky is someone who had just released a book and wonders how Wallace had just achieved greatness. Yet, Wallace is this man who prefers the company of dogs at his home while he does have a couple of acquaintances he would meet in Minneapolis.
The scene where Lipsky chats with one of Wallace’s friends is a moment that showcase a few of the dark aspects of Wallace who believes Lipsky is flirting with her even though he has a girlfriend back in New York City. It adds to Lipsky’s intrigue towards Wallace as he is pressured from his editor to talk about these rumors about Wallace’s supposed heroin addiction when the reality is actually disappointing as it plays into Wallace’s persona as a man who wears regular clothing and a bandana as the theme of identity comes into play. Polsoldt plays up that tension as Lipsky is forced to have revelations about Wallace’s struggle with this newfound celebrity status as well as these expectations in relation to these great writers of the past. Notably in the third act towards the end of the tour as Lipsky wonders if everything Wallace is doing is an act but it turns out to be not as simple as he wishes it would be since great writers in the past played a persona that diverged from their true being. Yet, the reality shows a man just trying to hold on to a sense of self as well as destroy the façade of celebrity. Overall, Polsoldt crafts a riveting and evocative film about a writer/journalist reflecting on his five-day tour with David Foster Wallace.
Cinematographer Jakob Ihre does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it aims for a straightforward and natural approach with some lighting for some of the scenes set at night. Editor Darrin Navarro does nice work with the editing as it also play into being straightforward with some rhythmic cuts that play into reaction shots and conversations. Production designer Gerald Sullivan, with set decorator Yvette Granata and art director Sarah M. Pott, does fantastic work with the look of Wallace’s home and its lack of mystery as well as a bookstore in Minneapolis where he promotes the book. Costume designer Emma Potter does terrific work with the costumes as it is largely casual including the ragged look of Wallace as it plays into the fashion of the 1990s.
Hair stylist Stephanie Strowbridge does superb work with the look of Lipsky’s different hairstyle from a ragged look in 1996 to a more subdued hairstyle in 2008. Visual effects supervisor Matthew Bramante does wonderful work with the visual effects as it is mainly bits of set-dressing for some of the exteriors to play into the look of the 1990s. Sound editor Ryan Collins does amazing work with the sound as it plays into the atmosphere of some the locations including a scene at Mall of America. The film’s music by Danny Elfman is good for its low-key ambient score with music supervisor Tiffany Anders cultivating a brilliant soundtrack that features music from R.E.M., Wang Chung, Tindersticks, Brian Eno, Alanis Morrisette, Fun Boy Three, Felt, Pulp, the Association, Tracey Ullman, Nu Shooz, Pavement, Chaka Khan, and the Magnetic Fields.
The casting by Avy Kaufman is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Becky Ann Baker as a bookstore manager for one of Wallace’s signings, Anna Chlumsky as Lipsky’s girlfriend Sarah who is in awe of Wallace’s book, Mamie Gummer and Mickey Sumner as a couple of friends of Wallace in their respective roles in Julie and Betsy with the latter being a poet that Lipsky is interested in, Ron Livingston as Lipsky’s editor Bob Levin who reluctantly gives Lipsky the story to interview Wallace, and Joan Cusack as Wallace and Lipsky’s chaperone in Minneapolis in Patty Gunderson.
Finally, there’s the duo of Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel in tremendous performances in their respective roles as David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace. Eisenberg brings a reserved performance as a writer who is trying to understand who Wallace his as all of his romantic ideas of what he wants Wallace to be turns out to be false as he tries to figure out what makes Wallace great. Segel’s performance as Wallace is also reserved yet it has its quirks as someone who just wants to be a normal guy whose house is a mess and eats junk food as Segel plays it straight without being someone who wants to be pretentious or be this idea of a what great writer as he isn’t sure if he’s that great. Eisenberg and Segel had great rapport together as they just both look and feel relaxed while also showing some humor in their time together.
The End of the Tour is a phenomenal film from James Ponsoldt that features incredible performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel. Featuring a great supporting ensemble cast, a compelling narrative, and a superb music soundtrack, the film is a fascinating story of a real-life interview between David Lipsky and the late David Foster Wallace just as the latter is ascending to fame despite his own issues with it that would haunt him for the rest of his life. In the end, The End of the Tour is a sensational film from James Ponsoldt.
James Ponsoldt Films: (Off the Black) – Smashed - The Spectacular Now - (The Circle 2017 film))
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