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Film review: The End of the Tour – Jason Segel excels as David Foster Wallace

Jesse Eisenberg's reporter plays the perfect foil to Segel's portrayal of the writer's psychological turmoil

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2015, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2015, 12:02pm

Essentially a two-character drama based on five days’ worth of annotated interview transcripts, The End of the Tour is a startlingly immersive film that gives the illusion – at once inspiring and heartbreaking – that you’re in the presence of the late great American novelist David Foster Wallace. Indeed, it’s so well done that you might forget Jason Segel is the bandana-wearing one in the movie.

Directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now)  with palpable respect for his subject’s intellectual brilliance and simmering psychological turmoil, the film is adapted by playwright Donald Margulies from the 2010 book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,  by writer-journalist David Lipsky, who is shown at this cerebral movie’s outset hearing of his famed interviewee’s suicide in 2008.

The bulk of this most unusual biopic takes place in 1996, when Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) pitches a profile – since never published – to Rolling Stone and then joins the 34-year-old Wallace (Segel) on the last days of his Infinite Jest press tour. The 1,079-page tome has just earned a hyperbolic review in New York magazine – referenced more than once here – and turned Wallace into a superstar.

As he comes to terms with his novel’s success, the author is conscious of the insecurity – about his genius, his celebrity, even his sexual attractiveness – that’s beginning to cloud his vision. Wallace’s conversation with Lipsky carries on from his Illinois home to a Minneapolis reading, and he reveals not just his burgeoning spiritual crisis but also an acute sense of loneliness, likely shared by his new acquaintance.

Best known for his How I Met Your Mother commitment, “bromance” veteran Segel nails the reluctant literary hero’s conflicted emotions near perfectly. In a twist of his abrasive role in The Social Network,  Eisenberg is equally vital here as the ambitious foil, being competitive next to Wallace’s accomplishment while living vicariously through it. Theirs are two of the year’s great performances.

The End of the Tour opens on October 29