Building a film around nothing more than two people talking is a formidable challenge.
After all, there’s not much inherently cinematic about the exchange of ideas and philosophies, and the chance of creating an inert, monumentally dull movie is a very real risk.
So it’s to director James Ponsoldt and stars Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg’s credit that “The End of the Tour” feels as vital as it does – a duel of wits between two extraordinarily bright men, which changed both in ways they did not anticipate.
“Tour” is adapted, by screenwriter Donald Margulies, from writer David Lipsky’s “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace,” Lipsky’s chronicle of five days spent with the author in the immediate afterglow of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic, “Infinite Jest.”
Lipsky (Eisenberg), a Rolling Stone writer in late 1996, argues the magazine should devote more coverage to authors, particularly those like the enormously talented Wallace (Segel). Dispatched to wintry Illinois, the ambitious but tentative Lipsky finds himself both enthralled and unnerved by Wallace’s diffident attitude and casual brilliance.
“Tour” absolutely nails the delicate dance between interviewer and interviewee – the constant negotiations and recalibrations necessary to access a total stranger’s innermost thoughts and feelings. As the two men spend hours talking over the last few days of Wallace’s book tour promoting “Jest,” parrying and thrusting, each testing the other’s mental and moral resolve, something approaching friendship begins to blossom.
There is no grand reveal or arrival at complete understanding when it comes to the mercurial Wallace, who took his own life in 2008. Rather, it captures a moment in time, when an American literary talent was in ascendance, and his struggle between wanting recognition and the realization of what must be traded away to obtain it.
Segel and Eisenberg excel at drawing out two men who very much live in their own heads, with a natural chemistry and a relationship that is by turns seductive and combative. There are other, ancillary characters on screen, but “Tour” is fundamentally a two-man show.
An intimate, sweetly elegiac study of insecurities bathed in talent and ambition, “The End of the Tour” is the best kind of conversation: One you hope never ends.
‘The End of the Tour’
Rated: R for strong language including some sexual references
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg