Book smarties

Rich portrayals carry story of a writer’s interview with David Foster Wallace

Ends tonight, Oct. 1. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel. Directed by James Ponsoldt. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

David Lipsky’s idiosyncratic memoir, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, is the basis for this suitably quirky and occasionally brilliant film written by Donald Margulies and directed by James Ponsoldt.

The “road trip” (the last leg of a Wallace book tour, actually) is still an integral part of it, but The End of the Tour is only tangentially a road movie.

The core of the story is Lipsky’s attempt to write an extended Rolling Stone interview/feature on Wallace at the height of the latter’s short-lived literary success. But Ponsoldt and Margulies treat it, above all, as a kind of free-floating dual portrait, with both of these writers named David entangled, variously, in crises of identity, personal as well as literary.

Jason Segel plays Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg plays Lipsky, and both are excellent. Segel fully inhabits the novelist’s hulking brilliance as well as his shambling ambivalence. Eisenberg, himself a published author, delivers a delicately nuanced picture of a writerly intelligence navigating small storms of envy, astonishment, self-hatred and shivery rapture.

Those two performances and the richly ambiguous characterizations that they embody give the film levels of fascination and interest that it might not have otherwise had. Without them, The End of the Tour would still be of real interest, but mainly to more specialized interests—academics, Wallace fans (and mourners), curiosity seekers.

Still, the film does have some nicely resonant touches with those somewhat secondary matters—the inanities and exhilarations of book tours, the seemingly unavoidable discomforts of fame and publicity, the late-modern quagmire of cultural mash-ups, the queasy intrusiveness of journalistic “profiles.” And some intriguingly intimate glimpses of the all-too-human puzzle that was David Foster Wallace are deftly sketched in as well.

There are also some jibes directed toward Rolling Stone—chiefly through glimpses of a brusquely obnoxious editor (played with dispatch by Ron Livingston) and some wisecracking references to “Yawn” (i.e., publisher and founder Jann Wenner). (As a footnote: Lipsky’s Wallace project never made it into print in Rolling Stone; only after Wallace’s suicide in 2008 did Lipsky return to his notes and audiotapes to produce the memoir that was published in 2010.)

Joan Cusack makes a gently satiric impression as a driver/PR aide for a book-signing event. Anna Chlumsky is the very picture of lucid insight as Lipsky’s partner. Mickey Sumner and Mamie Gummer make some wry, understated contributions as two female friends of Wallace who accompany both Davids on what turns out to be a long night of binging on junk food, bad movies and late-night TV.