Loneliness is at the forefront of James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour. Anybody sitting in the corner might appear alone, and that could be true, but even if you’re the most popular writer in America you might also find yourself in solitude. Following the true story of David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), a Rolling Stones reporter tasked with interviewing David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), The End of the Tour is a heartfelt and forlorn snapshot of the renown writer full who was as strange as can be, while also being a compelling glimpse at two lonely people who are so desperate for contact that they are afraid to even show it.
Lipsky, eager for the chance to interview the most talked about author in America in 1996, takes the opportunity to spend five days with Wallace who has just published his opus, Infinite Jest. With presumptions about the brilliant and obscure mind of Wallace, Lipsky attempts to decipher the enigma of Wallace’s inner-workings. Eisenberg and Segel deliver two absolutely terrific performances of two lonely men. Eisenberg, who does not entirely have to stretch himself far from previous characets, still manages to deliver a first-rate performance as the reporter who somehow has to find a way into the mind of someone who is anything but normal. We watch his character, just like Segel’s, come out of a shell of self-conscious thinking throughout the course of the film while also realizing he is as lonely as Wallace.
Segel brings the late author to life with such humanity that you’d think that Segel was born for the role–it is an absolutely game-changing performance. We see Wallace constantly struggling with simple decisions that become philosophical dilemmas as he tries to make decisions for himself to please him and not for others. The facade he builds is one that isn’t entirely stable as we see brief glimpses into who he actually is inside with his philosophical tirades on pleasure-driven America and its most popular addiction—television. But behind all of his popularity, he is hopelessly alone.
With an impeccable economy of dialogue in the film, we receive little hints and clues about what makes Wallace tick, yet we never get the full story. There are hardly any huge revelations so simple dialogue becomes our means of learning anything about the character. We also get no flashbacks to childhood moments or anything defining in Wallace’s life, we just have to make inferences based on how much or how little is revealed to us.
When you throw these two actors together, performing to the best of their abilities, you get something truly grand. There are no action sequences (save for a brief viewing of Broken Arrow,) hardly any comedy, and not many explosive moments— but what carries the film are solely these two actors, who are the primary population of the film (aside from brief appearances from Ron Livingston, Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer, and Anna Chlumsky.) The scenes are carried on purely by dialogue as we slowly chisel away at the mythos that both of these vastly complex characters have managed to encase themselves in, and we are never bored. Segel and Eisenberg have incredible chemistry, and their insecurities come through as we learn more about these two lonely lost souls who happened to find each other for just a brief period of time.
The End of the Tour is a flurry of visceral emotions that are brilliantly drawn out from precisely planned dialogue and a deliberately paced script. With sensational performances from both Eisenberg and Segel, our brief time with David Foster Wallace leaves just as much of an impression on us as it did for Lipsky in real life—one that is profoundly tremendous.