Sundance 2015: Jason Segel is Incredible in Profound 'End of the Tour'
by Alex Billington
January 24, 2015
Why do we act the way we do, why has modern culture become so obsessed with entertainment, why is fame such a primal desire for so many people? Films that make you really think, that make you consider ideas and reflect upon your own life, are most often the ones I find myself connecting to the most. The ones with big thoughts presented in understandable sentences, crafted with intelligence and empathy, and yet they're still heartfelt and human. The End of the Tour, the latest from director James Ponsoldt (of Smashed and The Spectacular Now from previous Sundances), is another masterful creation in that vein journeying deep into the mind of brilliant author/writer David Foster Wallace, who wrote the book Infinite Jest.
Over the last few years, James Ponsoldt has become one of my favorite filmmakers. I said the same thing in my The Spectacular Now review, and I'll repeat it again here, because he really is one of my favorites out of everyone in the industry and continues to make amazing films. Ponsoldt directs with a nuance that I haven't noticed in many other directors. Not only is he capable of getting remarkable performances from some of the most talented, underrated actors out there, fitting them perfectly into roles we would never expect; but he also directs with a steady hand, an assured vision of what he is trying to say, but with such a finesse that he never speaks too loudly. He lets his characters do all of the talking, and oh are they delightful to watch.
The End of the Tour follows the story of a young Rolling Stone writer, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who takes on the task of interviewing author David Foster Wallace, played by Jason Segel, after his critically acclaimed book Infinite Jest is released in the mid-1990s. The film dives very deep into Wallace's mind, his thoughts, who he is and maybe even why he is. But it's not the kind that weighs heavy on your mind, instead it feels refreshing, at times laugh out loud funny and other times immensely contemplative. The story isn't full of bells and whistles, and perhaps that's the biggest criticism, is that there isn't much to it except for two guys talking about life, writing, society, other people and everything inbetween. But it's utterly fascinating.
What makes the film so totally wonderful is the relationship between the two, because it's not about cliche arguments or becoming close friends, it's about exploring fame and fortune and our goals as members of this modern society. It's about what our culture has become, and how we interact with it, how we shape it from here on it. I have not read Infinite Jest yet, though now I really want to. The film delves into the mind that wrote what I've heard is an intensely dense book. However, David Foster Wallace is not a outwardly brilliant guy, as he comes off rather goofy and occasionally even aloof in-person, headband and all. When you ask him why there's no direct answer, there's more questions and more thoughts and more to consider.
Above all, it's Jason Segel who elevates this film from something great to phenomenal. This is his best role yet, hands down, he gives the kind of "I never knew he had this much potential but oh my goodness!" career-changing performance that will be talked about for years. Honestly I felt like I wasn't watching Jason Segel, I was watching David Foster Wallace; Segel fully commits to the character and it's so mesmerizing to watch. He's that good, he's that endearing, and he deserves all the acclaim that is coming to him. To explore the mind of someone so brilliant yet who lives such a simple life is extremely compelling, and the comments he makes are profound. It makes me want to re-evaluate my own life, my goals. What am I really after?
Thank you, James Ponsoldt, for once again making the kind of brilliant film that I can so easily fall in love with. Thank you, once again, for working with such talented actors and getting such distinctly impressive performances out of them. Thank you, once again, for being so caring and compassionate and intelligent about your characters and their feelings. Thank you, once again, for making such beautifully moving and mind-expanding films. I feel as if I made a deep connection with this one, the concepts it explores, and was deeply satisfied with the ending and the tiny but important moments that build to it. If you want to open your mind, and think more about your life, the people in it, what it all means and why, don't ignore this film.
Alex's Sundance 2015 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing