Sundance 2015 Review: ‘The End of the Tour’ is One-On-One of a Kind

The End of the Tour is in some respects a towering triumph of a movie. It is also a movie in which 90% of it is just two dudes talking. So your mileage may vary, depending on how many car chases or fart jokes you need in order to keep still for a couple of hours.

The rest of us, the lonely and friendly and shy egomaniacs, who enjoy the stupid parts of life but think that perhaps there’s more to both it and ourselves, will find something truly rapturous in James Ponsoldt’s latest feature. It is mostly conversation, true, and it is nothing less than a captivating interplay of ideas and emotions. “Show, don’t tell” the film professors say, but The End of the Tour is showing us that the telling matters, and that the attempts we make to suss out the truth from others is a fundamental building block, and stumbling block, to the human experience.

The End of the Tour stars Jesse Eisenberg as author David Lipsky, who interviewed the much more acclaimed author David Foster Wallace, played by Jason Segel, for five days at the conclusion of Wallace’s book tour for Infinite Jest. David Foster Wallace has a brilliant mind, that much is obvious just from hearing him talk (and by reading his books, naturally), but he also defies the categorization that the media requires of its celebrities. Just like anyone would. He is not his book, he is not his vices, and he is not even necessarily who he seems to be over the course of the interview. Or maybe he is exactly what he seems to be, and Lipsky’s expectations of a more talented author are simply preventing him from accepting the unassuming man at face value.

Although Lipsky and Wallace form some sort of bond over the course of The End of the Tour, there is always a boundary to their friendship. Lipsky has an agenda: to turn Wallace into a story, obviously, but also to hold himself up to a writer that the world has deemed superior. (Lipsky has written a book about his own life experiences, and attendees for his public readings only number in the single digits.) It is clear that these two men have much to say to each other, and also a great deal in common, and yet they can never be friends. 

Wallace repeatedly says that he’s not sure whether or not he even likes Lipsky yet – for how could he know, when their whole relationship is based on interrogation – and Lipsky consciously or subconsciously allows himself to one-up Wallace when the opportunity presents itself, in social situations where the shy best-selling author is less of an expert. Watching a relationship between these two thoughtful people, one oblivious to himself and the other almost debilitatingly aware, amounts to a front seat to an evenly matched, suspenseful, philosophical tug o’ war. 

Who people are, and how they got that way, are questions that every movie attempts to answer in one form or another. Usually they settle on simplistic explanations, like one of the Seven Deadly Sins, or “daddy issues.” But The End of the Tour is one of the great movies about the search for greater depth in a single individual, capturing with novelistic detail the ineffable complexity of a character and making their contradictions, their fumblings and what strong opinions they do have as exciting as any car chase with aliens, lasers and even a little bit of sex it.

The End of the Tour is a profound experience about a profound experience, with a performance from Jason Segel, in particular, that can only be described as a revelation. One always suspected that behind Segel’s affable comedic persona there was great thoughtfulness and more than a little pain. He’s a natural fit for David Foster Wallace, himself a lovable and troubled enigma, and his casting is one of many exceptional decisions made in bringing The End of the Tour to life. Eisenberg is likewise playing within his familiar screen presence, embracing the insecurity beneath his confidence, and the ego behind his emotional fragility. Together they are sublime.

The End of the Tour is an alluring and amusing look into the private minds of two fascinating people, one that I suspect everyone can relate to if they listen intently enough, and watch the subtle interplay of its characters. It will make you smile, it will make you sad, and it will make you wish you were more articulate about all the infinite ramblings of your own, wonderful and conflicted psyche.


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.