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Why A24’s The End of the Tour Is One of the Best Movies About Writers

May 3, 2023


Adapting a great book is always a challenge for filmmakers, but getting into the mind of a great author can be just as difficult. When so much of someone’s life is centered on the written word, telling a story that is inherently cinematic is no easy task. However, films about great authors can be successful if they manage to take a unique approach in which the viewers learn new insights that may inspire them to look at the writer’s most famous work in a new light. This is the case with The End of the Tour, a biographical film about the infamous writer and essayist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). Wallace was renowned for his famous novel Infinite Jest, but sadly he passed away at the age of 48.

Directed by James Ponsoldt, The End of the Tour focuses on one of Wallace’s last public tours before his death in which he’s accompanied by Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). The film is partially inspired by Lipsky’s memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, and explores the personal and professional bond that Lipsky and Wallace share during the tumultuous few months that they tour together. While it was overshadowed by some of A24’s buzzier releases during its initial rollout in 2015, The End of the Tour is a masterwork, and one of the greatest films about the relationship between writers.

Bringing a True Story To Life

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Wallace’s work was incredibly influential, but the complex nature of his stories and obtuse quality of his personal essays would make them difficult to adapt to the big screen. Creating a film version of Infinite Jest would be nearly impossible, but telling a story about Foster’s life might be interesting to fans of his work. At the same time, Ponsoldt tells such a delicate, touching story that even those who have no familiarity with Wallace at all can still find pleasure and insight in the relationship between the two leading characters. The chemistry between Segel and Eisenberg is brittle, yet occasionally humorous, and evokes the feeling of road trip classics like Almost Famous.

Related: Jason Segel’s Best Performances, Ranked

There is an inherent difficulty with telling a story about Wallace’s life, as he struggled intensely with mental illness and depression before his death by suicide in 2008. Films about such delicate topics run the risk of feeling exploitative, but thankfully Ponsoldt crafts a depiction of depression that is respectful of real victims. At one point, Lipsky asks Wallace to explain why he is so troubled; it appears to Lipsky that Wallace has acclaim, a passionate fanbase, and has written many classics, and is confused why he is so down on himself. Segel does a great job at showing that just because someone isn’t showing any obvious signs of discontent, they can still be dealing with latent issues. The excellent score by Danny Elfman does a great job at personifying Wallace’s feelings.

Showing the Difficult Creative Process

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Ponsoldt is a fascinating filmmaker who tends to focus on the struggles artists face in their creative processes and intimate relationships. His coming-of-age film The Spectacular Now focused on an intimate relationship between the young adults, and his hit Prime Video series Daisy Jones & the Six explored the creative struggles that a famous rock band faced during the short peak of their career in 1977. Ponsoldt brings the same emotional earnestness to his depiction of Lipsky and Wallaces’ dynamic; they’re both reclusive men who are not entirely satisfied with what they’ve accomplished in life. Wallace struggles to find inspiration, as he’s grown to question what meaning his work leaves behind. Similarly, Lipsky questions what his future at Rolling Stone will look like.

Related: Jesse Eisenberg’s Best Performances, Ranked

The differences in their creative struggles really come to life thanks to the excellent central performances. It’s odd to see someone like Segel take on the role of a famously reclusive author, as he is broadly known for his more comedic work in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I Love You, Man, and How I Met Your Mother. However, Segel sheds all signs of the goofy persona he generally adopts to give a stripped down and emotional performance. Eisenberg is also playing slightly against type, as he lacks the confidence and snark that had made his most famous performance in The Social Network so iconic. Even though Lipsky and Wallace often come into conflict with each other, the audience has a reason to empathize with them both.

The film is framed around an event in 2008 where Lipsky hears of Wallace’s death, and reads from his own memoir about their experiences together. This was a great way to show how two characters that are used to communicating through their work express their emotions. The stunning ending sequence, in which the film flashes back to Wallace dancing at a party, is a heartwarming visual. There is even a mid-credit sequence in which Wallace goofs around with Lipsky’s tape recorder, showing a lighter side to his personality.

Exploring Different Writing Processes

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The End of the Tour is interesting for writers because it shows two very different sides of the profession. Lipsky is a journalist who wants to learn about Wallace’s life, but finds himself frustrated when he goes out of his way to not answer his questions; he worries about disappointing his editor, Bob Levin (Ron Livingston). Wallace doesn’t think there’s value in his story, even if the audience knows enough about him to know that’s not the case. This tension adds to the brittle, and occasionally tumultuous relationship between the two.

The film’s subtle, slow approach to a traditional biopic story earned the praise of film critics. The Washington Post said that it was a “part love story, part road trip, part elegy to a bygone, pre-9/11 age” that “brims with compassion and sharply honed insight.” Similarly, The New York Daily News said that “director James Ponsoldt’s smart, incisive and extraordinary drama is the kind of film that burrows into your head and leaves you illuminated about life and how to live it.”

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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