“The most personally resonant film I’ve seen at Sundance so far this year is director James Ponsoldt and screenwriter Donald Margulies’s The End of the Tour, an adaptation of David Lipsky’s bestselling memoir Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace,” announces Noel Murray at the Dissolve. “It’s been my impression that a lot of the expectations of and reactions to The End of the Tour are tied to how viewers feel about Wallace’s work, and how they feel about the idea of sitcom star Jason Segel playing Wallace, in a film about a multi-day interview between the author and needy Rolling Stone reporter Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg).” Murray suggests that “the movie might be better served if everyone forgot about the famous person Segel’s playing. Because really, The End of the Tour could be about any two writers of disparate accomplishment.”
At Vulture, Jada Yuan informs us that there’s already awards chatter fluttering around Segel’s performance (and she’s got the tweets to prove it). “Wallace’s estate tried to stop the film, which… depicts Wallace as a semi-hermit living in snowy Illinois and uncomfortable with his fame, but also warm and endearingly open for a companion to join him in eating junk food and smoking cigarettes and talking about loneliness and not getting laid as he finished out his Infinite Jest book tour. The two fast friends tour the Mall of America with a book-publicist-assigned escort (Joan Cusack), and go for a wild ride with a fan turned friend (Mamie Gummer) and one of Wallace’s college exes (Mickey Sumner) that turns dark on a dime when Wallace thinks Lipsky is hitting on her. It’s no surprise that an audience full of journalists has gone nuts for a movie that puts two extremely intelligent writers, with all the neurosis and self-loathing and competition that entails, in a car and watches them build a friendship over compact and artificially instigated circumstances.”
“Ponsoldt has become something of a Sundance perennial, having now premiered all four of his features in Park City,” notes the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd. “This is not a case of pure favoritism, of someone getting invited back because they’re already part of the club. Ponsoldt belongs to that rare group of young filmmakers that seem to get better with every picture; just as 2012’s The Spectacular Now greatly improved on Smashed, the film he made before it, The End of the Tour finds the director growing increasingly confident in his handling of intimate, dialogue-driven material. It helps that said material—and said dialogue, though some of that is surely pulled from the tapes—is so strong…. Like some of the best talkfests, it approximates the vagaries of actual conversation—the starts and stops that occur when two strangers are getting to know each other, one sentence at a time.”
“Wallace is something of a gentle giant,” writes Jordan Hoffman for the Guardian, “and as Lipsky digs deeper we learn more about his battles with depression. But Wallace’s narrative refuses to fit into a simple box. He used to drink but wasn’t ‘a drunk.’ His time on suicide watch wasn’t due to a chemical imbalance. What The End of the Tour tries to sell, and sells well, is that Wallace’s big heart was just not made for these times. He’s unable to engage with Lipsky without worrying about three chess moves down the road—about how things will be perceived, and how his reaction to that perception will be perceived.”
“This is no conventional biodrama about the tortured artist, but very much the film that lovers of Wallace’s dazzlingly perspicacious fiction and essays would want,” argues David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “For a movie that’s almost entirely driven by talk, this has a graceful fluidity thanks to Jakob Ihre’s elegant widescreen cinematography and Darrin Navarro’s editing, moving the action smoothly from place to place with unerring rhythm. And Danny Elfman’s gentle score serves to delicately coax out the story’s underlying sorrow. Lively song selections also punctuate the film, including a raucous Alanis Morissette shout-out, prompted by Wallace’s fandom, but tellingly catching him in a moment of brooding introspection.”
In Screen, Anthony Kaufman finds The End of the Tour to be a “transfixing human drama,” but in Variety, Dennis Harvey argues that “there’s too little drama and insight to this adaptation.” At RogerEbert.com, Brian Tallerico suggests that “The End of the Tour is very comparable to Richard Linklater’s Before movies in the way that its greatest pleasures come not from narrative but discussion, and in how both films present chance encounters as life-shaping events.” The End of the Tour is “the best film of the first few days of Sundance 2015.”
More from Daniel Fienberg (HitFix), Jack Giroux (Film Stage, B+) and Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B+). Filmmaker‘s Scott Macaulay interviews Ponsoldt, Jason Bailey talks with Segel for Flavorwire and Ramin Setoodeh talks with Eisenberg for Variety.
Updates: “Segel is a revelation,” writes EW‘s Chris Lee. “His Wallace is a fully inhabited character: a lumbering recluse with a piercing, laser-quick intellect.”
“Framed as an unforgettable memory, Ponsoldt captures what feels like a sincere elegy from Lipsky to Wallace,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “Though the playfully competitive banter between Lipsky and Wallace sours quickly by weekend’s twilight and turns into a sometimes vicious telling of truths that renders the possibility of a budding friendship inert, it’s clear the brief moment had a profound effect on Lipsky.”
Updates, 2/1: For Bilge Ebiri at Vulture, “what’s most impressive about The End of the Tour is that it understands its boundaries and limitations; it slowly starts to acknowledge the very unknowability of its subject. That’s not a new conceit, and it’s already been explored in everything from Citizen Kane to Almost Famous. But this film has a few new moves on it, too. And it’s got Jason Segel.”
Rolling Stone‘s David Fear notes that “by focusing on the the writer’s defensive hesitancies and sudden bursts of intellectual thrust-parries, Segel comes close to nailing what Wallace himself referred to as the blend of alpha-ego and shy loserdom that characterizes a lonely superwriter. Though the dude has done his homework…, he’s not doing an impersonation. It’s a performance.”
“The film wonders if there’s a little of Wallace’s second-guessing and determination to overexplain in all of us,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland, “but it knows that bounteous self-consciousness was part of his peculiar genius. That feels very much worth trying to dramatize, worth trying to communicate.”
“Although it’s centered around Infinite Jest, the movie’s true inspiration is Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer, in which she described journalism as ‘morally indefensible,'” writes Sam Adams at Criticwire. “Eisenberg’s Lipsky is a snake in the grass, and he doesn’t even seem to know it.”
Time Out‘s Joshua Rothkopf: “Eisenberg is fully within his neurotic element as Lipsky, skulking through NYC’s literary hang KGB Bar, lunging at his doubtful editor for the Wallace gig and arriving in the author’s snowy Illinois looking like a wet cat. Ponsoldt structures the film out of Lipsky’s lingering reaction shots and you can see a riot of emotions on Eisenberg’s face as the red light of his tape recorder glows: awe, obsequity, mystification, curiosity.”
“The End of the Tour does end up being of a kind with My Week With Marilyn in serving as a window into the life of someone brilliant and doomed, over whose memory people possessively compete,” writes Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed. “It may not intend to romanticize these qualities, but in framing the story with Lipsky being notified of Wallace’s suicide, it inescapably does.”
Indiewire hands its Sundance questions to Ponsoldt.