Review: 'The End of the Tour'

The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter
David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace
BAD BROMANCE: David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent time with David Foster Wallace (Jason Siegel) while working on a profile of the late writer. They didn't always get along.

James Ponsoldt's deeply affecting The End of the Tour is the story of a few days in the late winter of 1996. Back then, author David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) profiled writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Siegel, in the performance of his life). It was during the Midwestern publicity tour for Wallace's tombstone novel, Infinite Jest. At the time, Lipsky's magazine, Rolling Stone, didn't do author profiles, and his editor couldn't see an angle. (Later, an angle suggested itself: Wallace's overcoming substance abuse, a natural in the mag trade.)

Wallace is seen as a deeply wary subject, who at the same time opens his home to Lipsky. Second only to his reluctance to be seen as a literary asshole is Wallace's fear of being viewed as that familiar figure of recovery, the artist who triumphs over past tragedy. He considers his problems to be far more broad—what crushed him is "the American belief that if I just have X and Y, I'll be a success".

Siegel's Wallace is 34 and physically lumbering. He's dressed in a dingy ochre quilted jacket and wearing a bandana around his head—the costume of used beer bottle harvesters everywhere. He's trying to stay modest and grungy even as this New York journalist examines him for cracks, like an engineer studying a boiler. They're escorted by a driver (Joan Cusack, demonstrating a level of Minnesota niceness so thin you wouldn't want to skate on it). They take in an afternoon at the Mall of America ("this is not un-fun"). The visual contrast between Siegel and Eisenberg is so strong that the conflict between them continues even without dialogue. (And this rift can be absolutely tragic when they're lost in a snowy airport parking lot, not speaking after a big squabble.)

Every doubt I've ever had about journalism is here. Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) ponders whether it's possible for a writer-for-hire to be a symbiotic parasite instead of a leech. When it's over, you wonder in turn if it would have been better to take Wallace at his stance: to keep the conversation on that nice, flat, vaguely optimistic plateau we love in America, to pretend that Wallace was just another McDonald's-fed, RC cola-watered, everyday guy. Lipsky chisels through to find anxieties, and in the Casablanca sense, this is the end of a beautiful friendship. It leaves only a happy face on a Post-It to mark its passing.

The End of the Tour

R; 106 Mins.

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