' ' Cinema Romantico: The End of the Tour

Monday, August 17, 2015

The End of the Tour

In 1997 venerable sportswriter Charles Pierce wrote a profile of an incredibly skilled young golfer named Tiger Woods for the pages of GQ. Pierce’s access was notably limited to nothing much more than a ride with Woods in the back of limousine, suggesting he didn’t have much time to cultivate an insightful deep dive into his subject’s genuine persona. Nevertheless, it was strikingly written, and when Mr. Woods’ personal life spectacularly unraveled in 2009, many pointed to the 12 year old profile and its wealth of ribald content as explicit foreshadowing. Pierce himself, however, didn’t quite agree. Of such clamoring he diplomatically said: “I’m not making any claims for prescience in that piece. I think I caught a guy in a moment in time.”

“The End of the Tour” is about two guys caught in a moment in time – the two guys being Dave Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) as he flies to the wintry Midwest to author a Rolling Stone profile of acclaimed author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) at the end of his book tour for the just-published “Infinite Jest.” The real Wallace committed suicide in 2008 and remains a towering figure of the American cultural landscape, yet James Ponsoldt’s “The End of Tour” is most decidedly not a Wallace biopic; it’s an effectual, occasionally painful, conception of a celebrity profile, a reminder that an interview can reveal just as much about the interviewee as the subject. After all, Lipsky is an author himself, though not wholly successful, illustrated by a sparsely attended reading glimpsed near the film’s beginning. When he reads reviews of “Infinite Jest”, he bristles. Then, he reads the book itself. Begrudgingly blown away, he pitches the end of the tour story to his curt editor (Ron Livingston), and sets forth, a man driven alternately by fawning fandom and jealous envy.

The film that follows is mostly conversation, two men exchanging a cavalcade of ideas and opinions and anxieties. You’ve seen these sorts of movies before, like Louis Malle’s immortal “My Dinner With Andre.” The dialogue in that film, however, skewed confessional and philosophical, and while there are acute moments when the clouds break and the sun shines down in the form of true confessions and piercing insight, more often than not the conversation in “The End of the Tour” comes across more guarded; it also has one device that “My Dinner With Andre” decidedly did not – the tape recorder.

Lipsky’s tape recorder is the third member of this ongoing tete-a-tete, never merely blending into the surroundings. Even when it’s turned off, it ineffably remains on. Repeated references are made to its presence and how post-interview Lipsky will retain the opportunity to take the story and shape it however he wants by utilizing Wallace’s behavior and dialogue to correlate with whatever the story turns into. This idea is hammered home so frequently that it only becomes natural to question the authenticity of what is shown.

That idea comes through, for good and for bad, in the Segel performance. He plays off Eisenberg's incredible mixture of insecurity, acrimony and sympathy with a significant trepidation. You never feel as if you’re getting the full story, as if he’s withholding, putting forth a persona. It’s something Wallace referred to himself as the literary statue and, frankly, that’s often how the performance looks, icon-ish. Segel drapes himself in that well-known bandana yet never gets underneath it and into the skin of the person he is supposed to be playing, less a humanization of a deity than a likeness, an assembly of tics and details that just approximates. It’s a failing that in a strange way manifests itself as a strength, as if underscoring that the real David Foster Wallace was off limits only to himself and those closest to him. Even the concluding shots of Wallace dancing seem less authentic than an author’s after-the-fact projection.

“The End of the Tour” bookends its primary story with Wallace’s death and this framework, coupled with a smattering of too-suggestive Wallace lines sprinkled throughout, intrinsically argues that what we are seeing is evidence that eventually this famed author would take his life. In other words, the film fancies itself prescient, a flaw which counteracts what it really is - that is, a mere moment in time. Wallace’s goodbye to Lipsky may as well function as an epitaph. He says: “I’m not so sure you want to be like me.” But then if the art of celebrity profile routinely proves anything, it’s that we rarely really learn who the “me” is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really smart review.