The End of the Tour (2015)

The End of the Tour (2015)
  • Time: 105 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: James Ponsoldt
  • Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Anna Chlumsky, Joan Cusack, Ron Livingston


The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’

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  • Engagingly verbose but psychologically spare, The End of the Tour paints a portrait of David Foster Wallace through the prism of a five-day interview with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky.

    Beginning with the news of Wallace’s suicide at the age of 46, the film rewinds 12 years earlier as Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) pitches a feature profile of Wallace to his initially skeptical editor (Ron Livingston). The magazine was not exactly known for profiling writers, but Wallace (Jason Segel) had just burst onto the scene with Infinite Jest, a doorstopper of a novel weighing over three pounds and clocking at 1,079 pages. Hailed to the heavens by critics and commercially embraced by readers, Wallace found himself in an anomalous position: the writer as celebrity.

    By contrast, Lipsky (or any other writer at the time, for that matter) was a published fiction writer of lesser success with barely attended readings of his latest work, and making a living by scraping together 500 words about the latest boy band. Lipsky later confessed he wanted what Wallace had already, but the Wallace he encountered was man in constant struggle with his newfound celebrity. Constitutionally averse to being in the spotlight, Wallace is skittish, guarded, wary of being both represented and misrepresented, and certainly wishing he could shape the impression he is projecting to Lipsky.

    Though essentially a two-hander, the film detours to Minneapolis to allow other characters into the mix. There for the end of Wallace’s promotional tour for Infinite Jest, they are driven about by Patty (the ever amusing Joan Cusack) and spend time with Julie (Mamie Gummer), Wallace’s longtime admirer-turned-friend, and Betsy (Mickey Sumner), Wallace’s former college girlfriend. Wallace does not take too kindly at Lipsky’s flirtation with Betsy, and gives Lipsky a taste of his own medicine by spending a good half hour on the phone with Lipsky’s girlfriend (Anna Chlumsky), who has stayed behind in New York.

    Wallace further bridles when Lipsky broaches rumours of his alleged heroin addiction, admitting that he experienced a depression so severe that he was placed on suicide watch. Lipsky suggests that Wallace is cultivating a regular guy persona, pretending to be inarticulate and shy when he is fully aware that he is the smartest guy in the room. Even his trademark bandanna is an affectation, Lipsky accuses. Yet the evidence appears otherwise, and Lipsky’s interrogations are revelations of his own insecurities rather than observational insights on the subject he is interviewing.

    Eisenberg is very good, but Segel is even better. Segel does some truly fine work here, but has he done justice to the talented and troubled writer? Many have said no, though there will always be naysayers whether they be family (the Wallace estate refused to give their blessing), friends or even passing acquaintances. Yet a biopic should never be bound to anything but the spirit of its subject, and the representation of Wallace is imbued with warmth, thoughtfulness, and a generosity of spirit.

    The End of the Tour is by no means a great film – it hovers just above good – but there is a genuine tension generated from the men’s wide-ranging conversations. There is a connection that forms, but one can understand Wallace’s desire to maintain a protective wall. Note how Wallace is always wondering if he likes Lipsky or if Lipsky is a good guy whenever Lipsky presses him to reveal more than he’s inclined. Wallace is keenly aware that his words are not being shared with a trusted friend, but with a reporter eager to present a story that will sell. For a man who sought to be true, his talent was both a blessing and a curse. “The more people think you’re really good, the bigger the fear of being a fraud is,” Wallace warns Lipsky.

    Wallace was definitely no fraud, not in his writing – the words that remain are a testament to his dense brilliance – and not in his efforts to clearly see the reality through the illusions, to ward off his negative impulses, and to not succumb to the loneliness that constantly threatened to devour him. Lipsky may covet his life, but Wallace know that underneath all the fame and attention, “I’m alone in a room with a piece of paper.”

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