The End of the Tour is not a biopic so much as an homage to a great writer who killed himself relatively young. In the film David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel of How I Met Your Mother) is the biggest writer of 1996, and David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) is a new reporter at Rolling Stone who talks his editor into sending him on a book tour with him. It is the first time Rolling Stone has done an author piece, but Wallace’s latest book, Infinite Jest, is earning him comparisons to Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Lipsky, a novelist himself, is jealously in awe of Wallace. What transpires is mostly a road trip interview. Yes, it is an interesting conversation, particularly so for other writers, and it is pretty much all talk and nearly no drama, but as Lipsky notes at the end of the film, “It was the best conversation I ever had.” And it surely is one of the better ones I have listened to in a while.
The beauty of the film is in the relationship and the conversation that is going on just beneath the surface. Jesse Eisenberg plays Lipsky as someone I wouldn’t necessarily trust to tell my story in my best interest, but he is trying really hard to get to the core of Wallace, and I certainly felt at times he was hoping to discover some secret to great writing that he could use to up his game. Jason Segel’s Wallace is grappling with being the literary star and the unreal side of fame. He is funny and sweet, but there are moments where he turns on Lipsky that belie a deep distrust. Both actors are extremely good in their roles, and what ends up on the screen is a fascinating dance between two men trying to balance professional, personal and literary lives.
I’ll admit I tried to read Infinite Jest when it came out and could not get into it. It is over 1000 pages with copious footnotes! And I’ve read that actual David Foster Wallace fans are not really all that into the movie and that his family is not happy about the author repurposing his interviews for a film. But maybe not reading it makes for a better viewing experience, since you are not reading into the author the qualities of the fictional protagonist of the book, something that really annoyed Wallace. The interview never made it into Rolling Stone, but the film is adapted from the tapes Lipsky has stashed away and revisited after Wallace’s suicide. I’d recommend this to people who are fine with talky films, like My Dinner With Andre or any number of Aaron Sorkin flicks.