Review by Lauryn Angel
I have never read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. When the novel was published in 1996, I was a senior in college, and as a double-major in English and History, most of my reading was pre-determined. When the novel came out in paperback, I worked at a bookstore and was in graduate school – so I bought a copy, but, again, my reading was dictated by the courses I was taking. And while I have read and enjoyed Wallace’s non-fiction, the 1,079-page novel sits on a shelf, waiting for me to pick it up.
That being said, familiarity with Infinite Jest is not a requirement for enjoying director James Ponsolt’s latest film, The End of the Tour. Not exactly a biopic, the film covers the five days that Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg) spent interviewing David Foster Wallace (portrayed by Jason Segel) on the final leg of his tour to promote Infinite Jest. The film is dialogue-driven, focusing on the conversations Lipsky and Wallace had during their brief time together. The story of their relationship is framed by Lipsky’s reaction to Wallace’s suicide in 2008.
Eisenberg’s performance as Lipsky, a writer who is used to being the smartest guy in the room, but disappointed in his own lack of fame as an author, is genuine and earnest. In a performance evocative of his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Eisenberg manages to convey Lipsky’s jealousy, insecurity, and competitiveness in every expression and gesture.
It is Jason Segel’s performance as the celebrated author shying away from the limelight, however, that steals the movie. Wallace is an unusual role for Segel, who known for playing loveable goofballs like Marshall Erikson in “How I Met Your Mother,” aging stoners (see pretty much every Judd Apatow movie he’s been in), and even Muppet companion, Gary. As a longtime fan of Segel, I was not surprised to see him in a more dramatic role, but his performance as Wallace is masterful. Segel’s body language captures Wallace’s uncertainty about allowing Lipsky into his life before they even exchange greetings. Segel has made a career out of playing “everyday guys,” and so he is well-suited to playing Wallace, who, in the same breath that he worries about being “too Po-Mo and cute,” insists that he is just a “regular guy.” Wallace appears in this film to be a very funny, awkward man who is unsure of how he fits in the world, which is a character Segel is experienced at playing – albeit in a different key.
While listening to two writers circle each other intellectually for two hours may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I certainly enjoyed it. And I will be taking my copy of Infinite Jest off the shelf and putting it at the front of my reading queue.
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