“The End of the Tour” – a film review by Gary Chew
Donald John Trump’s poll surge has me thinking that Johnny Gentle, a character in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest might possibly be a prediction made by the late author. Johnny Gentle is written as a former singer and now President of the United States in the voluminous novel. One might infer from Wallace — if he wrote it as something lurking in the nation’s future — that it’s just him jesting about America’s penchant for shallowness.
Fans of Mr. Wallace and anyone who loves to lose him or herself in a good book will take to the new film The End of the Tour like Jay Gatsby and Joe Gillis did to swimming pools. It’s really unfortunate that those two characters of fiction met with an abrupt and rather early end, and that David Foster Wallace — a real person played in the movie by Jason Segel — did as well. At his own hand.
The End of the Tour takes you on a tour with Wallace and a Rolling Stone reporter — another real person named David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). Wallace is about to complete his Infinite Jest book tour as Lipsky tags along to gather material, as well as research and get to know Dave Wallace.
Segel plays Wallace brilliantly and having a considerably higher vantage point on life, but not distance from Jeff Bridges’ irrepressible The Dude in that “Lebowski” movie we all know and love. Lipsky is a more typical writer, one that’s struggling; but “Hey,” he does have a gig at Rolling Stone, and is now on with this profile piece about one of America’s hottest writers who taught for a time at Illinois State University in Bloomington. It just might be that Lipsky wants to be Dave Wallace.
Director James Ponsoldt provides a genuine talkie film. No, not that it also has, besides being a moving picture, dialogue and music on a soundtrack … but an overwhelming amount of conversation between Wallace and Lipsky; some of it approaching rather riveting … and funny. Let me just say that since I’ve long been a fan of Orwell, this movie, with a script written by Donald Marguiles (from Lipsky’s book), doesn’t give anyone the lowdown on Doublethink … but a lot of insight into Overthink. If Wallace hadn’t had Foster for a middle name, it might have been, more appropriately, “Overthink.”
As I’ve been associated with more than one NPR radio affiliate in my day, it should be pointed out that The End of the Tour is soooooo NPR. Even Robert Siegel of All Things Considered fame got to lay down a track of narration for the outset of Tour. I thought maybe I’d hear an underwriter message just before the story began to unfold on the celebrated Wallace and Rolling Stone’s Lipsky.
A subtle treat for me and other NPR listeners, I’m sure, is the neat, sweet condescension laced into the story. With help from cast member Joan Cusack, the bit about Mary Tyler Moore’s statue in downtown Minneapolis (in the film) is a gentle example of a good natured joke with Mid-Westerners as its butt. You’ll think you might be in the Fitzgerald Theater chuckling to Garrison Keillor who, by the way, doesn’t appear in the film.
There are some really good “dog scenes” in Tour though, but remembering the title of Wallace’s book — Infinite Jest — clues one to its sense of the absurd. Depression is in the mix.
I couldn’t keep from thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams as I watched a movie about another deep and supremely talented artist by the name of David Foster Wallace.