There are a couple of things I can pretty much guarantee will happen after you see The End of the Tour - which, by the way, you definitely should.
One: If you've never read Infinite Jest, the David Foster Wallace novel hailed as a work of virtuosic genius when it came out in 1996, you'll head for a bookshop, or library, or Amazon, and get the thing. (Actually reading its 1,079 nonlinear, ricocheting, footnote-crazy pages is another story.)
Two: You will heave a big, sad sigh, and maybe even cry.
A beautiful film that consists of a couple of smart, insecure dudes talking about identity, celebrity, literature, ambition, America, and the everyday hotness of Alanis Morissette, The End of the Tour has been adapted - with exceptional nuance - by filmmaker James Ponsoldt from David Lipsky's memoir, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. That book, published in 2010, documents Lipsky's five-day tagalong with Wallace, traveling with him on a promo tour for a profile for Rolling Stone. The story never appeared in the magazine, but after Wallace committed suicide in 2008, Lipsky pulled out the cassette tapes of his interviews and put them in book form.
The movie begins with the jolting news of Wallace's death (he was 46), and then jumps back 12 years to when Lipsky flew from New York to the snowbound boonies of Illinois to share Twizzlers and deep thoughts with the Infinite Jest scribe - and to accompany him on a jaunt to Minneapolis.
Jesse Eisenberg, nominated for an Oscar for his portrait of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, brings a similarly nervous-Nelly quality to his reading of Lipsky. Eisenberg gets the tricky part of the inquiring-journalist role just right, trying to befriend his subject, to extract telling stories, lasering in with deep intent, and throwing quick looks at the little battery light on the tape recorder. Lipsky is also a novelist, and a shard of professional jealousy pierces his psyche. Why should Wallace get all the acclaim? What about me?
Although The End of the Tour is Lipsky's POV - his take - the conversations matter because of what his interviewee, the grungy, self-deprecating lit star with the black dogs and the junk-food diet, has to say. Jason Segel, sporting a bandanna, wire-rims, and a look of profound restlessness, hones in on Wallace as though he'd known the man intimately. It helps, of course, that the actor is speaking Wallace's sentences, brainy, goofy, full of digressions - one minute he's confident and wise, the next riddled with second-guesses and self-doubt. The How I Met Your Mother veteran has shown some mettle in comedies like I Love You, Man and The Five-Year Engagement, but this is a breakout performance, piercing and true. Wallace is the soul of the movie, and Segel plays him with respect, recognition, empathy, and humor.
As troubled and depression-prone as Wallace was, he was also brilliantly funny. The sheer pleasure of being a fly on the wall in the diner booths, hotel rooms, and cars where Wallace and Lipsky batted around words and concepts is a big part of the thrill of The End of the Tour.
We're in the company of a great character here, with a lot on his mind, a lot to say. Wallace is constantly checking himself, afraid he's going to come off as pompous, elitist, clinging fiercely to his "regular guy-ness."
But he's not a regular guy, he's something special. So is the film that brings him back to life, however fleetingly.
Directed by James Ponsoldt. With Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Mamie Gummer, Anna Chlumsky, and Joan Cusack. Distributed by A24.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: Area theaters.EndText