Gargantuan — in size and stature — Infinite Jest is the kind of magnum opus novel that can cause sleepless nights, spark endless debate, even put a strain on romantic relationships and friendships, if not outright end them. Similarly, the talents of its late writer David Foster Wallace himself can inspire everything from admiration to puzzlement to giddy awe to outright envy.
The new movie, The End of the Tour, is about the five days in 1996 when jangly, sharp Manhattan Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) cornered the deeply mercurial Wallace (Jason Segel) in wintry, suburban Bloomington, Ill. for a lot of talking, driving, arguing, philosophizing, hanging out, and binging junk food during Wallace’s publicity tour for Infinite Jest. The end result never wound up in Rolling Stone but instead became the beautiful, mournful 2010 memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. It makes for an also beautiful, mournfully funny, and achingly intimate little movie adapted by Pulitzer winner Donald Margulies and directed by James Ponsaldt (The Spectacular Now).
Eisenberg is all nerves, neurosis, and intelligence as the journalist fan/jealous rival. He’s really strong here; funny, nasty, and relatable in ways he hasn’t been on screen since The Social Network. Segel is the big surprise as the bandana-wearing Wallace, slouching and galumphing around awkwardly, dazzling fangirls with his razor-y intellect, wit, hangdog charm, and slob’s charisma, and radiating a unapproachability and isolation that can’t be bridged. Segel breaks our hearts and skillfully exposes Wallace’s demons without laying on the pathos or Acting Dark and Crazy. The two actors are so spikey and alive, watching them feels like a spying on a first date that turns into a boxing match that ends in some kind of middle ground of understanding. They make you hang onto their every word, profound and ridiculous — and there are plenty of them. The End of the Tour may be a niche movie but for those willing to tunnel in, it’s a thing of beauty.