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An Odd Couple

 

Coming off of the surprise hit, The Spectacular Now, director James Ponsoldt brings us The End of the Tour: the story of Rolling Stone writer, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), as he joins famous author, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), for a week and a half on the last stop of his book tour. The early buzz for this film was electric. Ponsoldt delivers a film that is quite unlike anything we have seen as of late, and he does it in a way that warms and chills the senses. We follow the journey of the small and strange relationship that forms between these two men. It is both odd and fascinating, but while we revel in the exceptional work that was created on this film, we can’t help but wonder if there is something missing here.

 

The story in this film is actually not that of the people, but ultimately just the story of the last bit of David Wallace’s book tour. After reading Wallace’s masterpiece of a novel, Infinite Jest, David Lipsky convinces his editor at Rolling Stone to allow him to join Wallace on his book tour. Lipsky, out of either admiration or jealousy, is fascinated with the idea of getting a small look inside the mind of this great author. A writer himself, Lipsky has had small success with his one published novel, a book that was bought by few, and read by even less. While his request to interview Wallace is pitched out of pure desire to speak to a man of genius, Lipsky gives off the impression that he feels like has something to prove to himself in meeting Wallace.

 

The writing and execution of the film plays as a chess match between the two Davids. They are constantly trying to get a feel for each other, while also flirting with the idea of a possible friendship. We learn that the only way Lipsky was allowed to do the interview was if he would ask Wallace about the rumors of him using heroin. We also see that Wallace is constantly battling with people’s real motivations. He gives the impression that he has a hard time trusting people, and a journalist isn’t exactly the first person you would want to open up to.

 

David Wallace is the hopeless romantic of the story. He is a man who has sheltered himself away in a hole-in-the-wall town in Illinois with his two dogs. Success and fame don’t play well to his senses, as the constant prying and desire for insight into his life tend to get to his psyche. More than anything, Wallace would like to be seen as a regular guy. He wants people to think that he is the type of person you can eat McDonald’s with and talk about classic records. When you are the author of a NY Times best seller and seen by the world as a genius, it can be hard to live out that desire. Wallace shows that he has been hurt by relationships in the past when they didn’t pan out in the ways that would have worked best for him. Despite this, we can still see that his walls are willing to come down when a new opportunity shows even the faintest signs of human connection.

 

Lipsky is our double-faced coin. His motivations to meet Wallace seem cunning and self-indulgent. His ability to make people open up to him, make him both a great journalist and the worst type of person for a man like Wallace. Lipsky appears to be on a mission to prove to himself and the world that he is capable of what Wallace has achieved. In this pursuit, it is clear that he doesn’t notice how his actions are affecting those around him. He mirrors the way that Wallace acts and speaks in an attempt to both make Wallace more comfortable and, in a strange way, to see what it’s like to walk in the shoes of the genius that he so desperately craves to be. Lipsky certainly does have genuine respect and admiration for Wallace, which only makes it more crippling when the snake in his motivations come out.

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As the waltz amid these two men goes on, it becomes painfully clear that a friendship between them is impossible, as it will always be tainted. Anyone who has been interviewed in a professional setting knows that it is the duty of the man with the recorder to get close to the subject. Finding out personal and intimate details is part of the job description, not the compassion within a person. For Wallace, this realization is the harshest of blows, as it seems yet again he has been hurt in the attempted companionship of another person. Lipsky only realizes what is lost to him after it is too late. His own mission and the story clouded his chance to become a better writer and person, by taking the chance to put down his recorder and really listen to David Foster Wallace the man, not the subject.

 

Eisenberg and Segel are close to perfect in their roles. It is difficult to execute a film that strictly follows the journey of two people, but that was not an issue in this film. Siegel brings a whole new side of his acting capabilities in an astounding first step into drama. He maintains his lovable and boyish charm, while delivering the odd persona that is so believable from a man like David Foster Wallace. He successfully captured the spirit of the character he was playing, rather than focusing on the look.

 

Eisenberg is the true hero of the film as he takes an approach that is both brave and arrogant. Yet again, he marches into the territory of not caring whether or not people see him as the villain. He delivers the performance of man who may attack at any moment. Even in the scenes where he and Segel seem like they are the best of friends, Eisenberg’s aura is ever present and unsettling. He has the ability to make us dislike Lipsky, while simultaneously understanding him.

 

If nothing else, The End of the Tour is interesting. After seeing it, it almost feels like a friend or a colleague just told you a story about an interview they just did, rather than that you just saw a film. The story plays no tricks and pulls no stunts. It is straightforward and charming. There were, at times, moments where it seemed like we were going to get something more: an instant of clarity or insight into the troubled mind of one of these men, but it didn’t come. Perhaps these moments were intentional, as it so commonly happens in an interview. Never the less, there was the faintest feeling of needing a little extra from this experience which, ironically, must be exactly how both Wallace and Lipsky felt about theirs.

 

Directed By: James Ponsoldt

Produced By: James Dahl, Matt DeRoss, David Kanter, Mark Manuel, Ted O’Neal

Screenplay By: David Margulies

Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg

Distributed By: A24 Films

Release Date: July 31, 2015

Run Time: 106 Minutes

About The Author

Contributing Writer

Dan graduated from Babson College with a BS in Marketing and Business Management. Since graduating from college, he has moved to Los Angeles where he works as a writer and actor. Dan is working on numerous screen plays and shorts for both TV and film. Some of my work can be seen on Funny Or Die.