The End of the Tour is the story of Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg) interviewing author David Foster Wallace (played by Jason Segel) as Wallace wrapped up his book tour for his novel Infinite Jest in 1996. Long story short, it's basically a 106-minute long conversation, which is uncomfortable from start to finish, that you wish wouldn't end.
The advance hype was right: This likely a career-changing role for Segel. I loved him in How I Met Your Mother, but his various comedic movie roles have generally ranged from "that's fine," to, "get off the screen, why am I watching this," for me. Segel loses himself in Wallace and does a terrific job of portraying the late author's fundamental unease with his life and the world around him. I expect this to lead to an Oscar nomination for the actor.
Wallace had some serious issues relating to his depression in the 1980's (discussed in the movie), and you can see how he still struggles with it some 10 years later. Given that he committed suicide 12 years after the events of this movie, it's a scary portrayal of the resiliency of this illness. As I get older, depression strikes me as a similar diagnosis to cancer. You fight it, and you hope you can go into remission for the long haul, but it's always lurking there.
Segel is great at portraying Wallace's discomfort with his fame. He understands the need to engage the marketing machine to promote Infinite Jest, but he's frightened of being portrayed poorly. His initial shyness around Lipsky eventually gives way to at least a bit of liking the reporter, but Wallace is frequently reminded that Lipsky has his own agenda, and that Wallace is completely vulnerable to however Lipsky wants to shape his article. Jessie Eisenberg is Jessie Eisenberg. There's nothing different about his portrayal of Lipsky, but that's okay. His brand of awkwardness and insecurity works perfectly in this story.
Eisenberg's Lipsky is immediately envious of Wallace's talent. He spends most of the movie not really understanding why fame isn't the greatest thing ever as far as Wallace is concerned. Lipsky clearly wants Wallace to like him and approve of him right from the start, and Eisenberg is tremendous at making that neediness feel palpable. However, he also comes across as an absolute predator, lulling Wallace into a "relaxed" conversation and then turning on a dime, trying to get the juicy controversial details about Wallace that he needs for his story to be "successful." There's a lot of debate in the movie about authenticity, the value of fame, as well as the growing sense of loneliness in this country. Wallace seemed to predict the age of Facebook and Twitter dead-on.
Segel and Eisenberg have strong chemistry together. Their conversations switch back and forth between two guys who like each other and two guys who eye each other warily. Also, I don't know their vital stats, but Segel looks like he's twice as big as Eisenberg, which subtly inflates Wallace's presence. Given Wallace's discomfort about the fame machinery, one might wonder if he would approve of this movie. However, it comes across as a pretty favorable portrayal, and it's not really that different from the interviews and events he participated in while he was alive. More people will discover Wallace's work because of the movie, and hopefully they will enjoy it.
There isn't a lot of action in The End of the Tour. Like I said, it's basically two guys having a three-day conversation, but it's a fascinating conversation, and you don't need to know anything about Wallace to appreciate the movie. I give it an A.