It’s hard to imagine a wide audience for this excellent film. David Foster Wallace may have been Gen X’s best literary voice, though Infinite Jest (his enormous masterpiece) is one of those great books that nobody has read, like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. And his too brief life is slightly off-putting. Wallace was a well-employed professor, an honored writer with a loving wife, who hung himself from his garage rafter. Depression plagued him most of his life. And then the void.
Yet, it would be a shame to miss this expertly layered portrait of the artist as a snowbound recluse. Mainly because he could talk, and he does so here. We meet David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), an author and Rolling Stone writer on a book tour himself when the positive furor accompanying Infinite Jest’s release hits all the usual journals. At first Lipsky is skeptical. Then he becomes obsessed. He arranges for a five-day interview to coincide with the end of Wallace’s book tour, and that’s the body of the movie.
But Wallace’s Midwest-boy ways are endearing, too. He liked junk foods and lowbrow movies, and in a poignant scene, Wallace and friends attend a mall multiplex screening of John Woo’s Broken Arrow, and Wallace talks up a particularly apocalyptic scene. The End of the Tour is not a biopic but rather a chronicle with great skepticism built into it, like Citizen Kane. There are no Rosebud moments, and while both Lipsky and Wallace come off as occasional creeps, both seem intelligent and caring, as well.
Some of the charm of this film derives from investigations of things on the wane. The idea of a book tour, for instance, has become a rarity in the American publishing scene. Long, thoughtful profiles in Rolling Stone are few and far between. And, of course, Wallace himself. (You can go on YouTube and see thoughtful interviews with the real man.) What’s artful about this hall of mirrors is how Jason Segel plays Wallace as a lumbering lost and found man. This is a brave film that finds memories and ghosts driving through snowscapes. You shouldn’t miss the chance to visit it.