The allure of author David Foster Wallace was his knack at giving his readers (and listeners) the chance to spend time with him and his mind. He clutched topics that seemed out of sight, prior to his enlightened touch and ability, and bring them to the forefront of our minds — even when they were always there. An hour with him was an hour spent expanding your mind and immersing yourself in new ideas and thoughts.
So, naturally spending over an hour and a half in a film version of Wallace sounds enchanting. Jason Segel, who plays the author, understands the nuances and prose that made the man so engaging — never lacking the charm that brought us closer to the legend. Jesse Eisenberg, who plays the Rolling Stones writer interviewing Wallace, is just as good, playing the audience who is so excited to get to hear the voice of someone who inspires.
But, what lacks in The End of the Tour is not the scarcity of moments with Wallace, but the absence of fresh content in his world.
The End of the Tour follows the author (Segel) as he makes his final stop along the 1996 book tour of his hit, “Infinite Jest,” in Minneapolis. Along for the ride is David Lipsky (Eisenberg), a Rolling Stones writer who is tasked with capturing the essence of the author in a piece for the magazine.
The two are similar, yet vastly different in ideals. Wallace is hesitant of the famed attached to his book. He speaks extensively with Lipsky about his insecurities and how he is afraid of what people expect from him now that he has a beloved book. On the other side of the coin is Lipsky, a fellow author whose book flopped. He is clearly jealous of Wallace, not just because his girlfriend has an obvious crush on the man, but because he doesn’t accept the recognition like Lipsky would if his book took off.
The most moving moments are when Lipsky and Wallace discuss this conundrum. Lipsky clearly wants what Wallace has so that he can enter the New York intellectual circles he sees himself in, and get recognized for his work. Following a book reading, he enters a party where a few people ask how it went. Most of them forget that the book even came out recently.
Wallace is the opposite. He strives for what Lipsky has now. Sure, he lives in New York compared to rural Illinois, but there is an anonymity to his work that Wallace has now lost. Because of his lack of fame, Lipsky can write in privacy, without the pressures of a legion of fans to divert where the next piece will go.
Segel plays Wallace with charm and bravado. While not a confident guy, Segel gives Wallace a giant presence that allows him to hover over Lipsky — both in stature and in notoriety. As someone who has watched Segel make his way through acting in Judd Apatow movies like Knocked Up or original content like Forgetting Sarah Marshall or in more visible fare such as How I Met Your Mother for nine seasons, it is clear that he fit into the role like a glove. He brings an approachable charisma to the character because, much like the rest of his career, he has always been a sociable personality whose company you enjoy.
Because of that, Segel’s previous characters squeeze through the perceived notion of Wallace and allows the audience to be satisfied with the time spent with the character. He doesn’t feel distant, unless the story demands it, and this allows us to glide into his world.
But, that also leaves us with a giant hole — one filled with comfort and familiarity. The pitfall of The End of the Tour isn’t in the execution, the directing, or the acting — it comes from the fact that it is a place we have been before. Searching Wallace’s name on YouTube can reveal multiple interviews the author did and allows you to get inside the mind and personality of the man who wrote “Infinite Jest” as much as you do in the film.
The End of the Tour lacks any true freshness. Everything feels pulled from and the finished product is more of a “Greatest Hits” list rather than a brand-new single. It isn’t a bad thing, and for fans who want to revisit or even be introduced to the writer, the film works as a vehicle to do that.
It never invites you into a new unseen portal of Wallace’s, and after seeing all of the other interviews and reading small snippets of his, that doesn’t seem like what Wallace would want. We read David Foster Wallace to open our minds to different ideas or thoughts and The End of the Tour doesn’t do that, it reminds us of what was there before and truly does end the tour rather than starting a new one.