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The End of the Tour

Two writers edit their own narratives in this excellent drama drawn from life

Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), left, follows acclaimed novelist David Foster ­Wallace (Jason Segel) to unearth the man behind the mythos. <<© Modern Man Films>>

After publishing Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel: Sex Tape) becomes the golden boy of the literary world. Glowing reviews claim the book is the greatest novel of its generation. Awards are showered on him. Instead of thriving, Wallace retreats from the limelight.
    Meanwhile, struggling novelist and Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg: Rio 2) seethes in jealousy. Even worse, Lipsky must admit that the praise is earned. Fascinated by the mind behind the brainy book, Lipsky pitches a story to his editor: Unearth the man behind the mythos.
    To do so, Lipsky travels to Illinois for the last five days of Wallace’ book tour. Instead of a brilliant intellect, Lipsky finds a quiet man more interested in his dogs than talking about writing.
    A bond forms, and Lipsky gets a glimpse of who’s beneath Wallace’s regular guy armor.
    Based on the true story of Lipsky’s never-published interviews, The End of the Tour is on surface a bit boring. No sex, no violence. Somehow, two guys talking about American culture, women and the stress of writing turns exciting.
    Wallace, who battled depression for years, is a writhing mass of insecurities. He has such strict derogatory ideas about the meaning of success that praise has made him paranoid. He fears being viewed as a fraud.
    Eager to learn from a genius, Lipsky treats the assignment more as enlightenment than investigation. He’s interested in Wallace but too in awe to ask hard questions. When he finally gets the nerve to scrutinize Wallace’s motives, the dynamic shifts.
    To make such a film work, actors have to be on top of their game. Both men inhabit their roles beautifully. Segel pulls off a mesmerizing performance as the troubled, soft-spoken genius whose vital eyes belie the bumpkin he plays for Lipsky. You can see him creating responses that seem both unassuming and smart.
    Eisenberg gives Lipsky natural tenacity that must be tamped down to draw Wallace out. Jealous, in awe and curious, he wants Wallace’s approval. But once he senses a ruse, he digs in, hoping to provoke honesty.
    To film this battle of wits, director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) keeps his camera unobtrusive, so we feel we’re eavesdropping on the conversation. It’s an effective trick that creates immediacy and tension.
    If you’re interested in Wallace or enjoy heady conversation, The End of the Tour should engage you. Otherwise, watching will be almost as tortuous as slogging through Wallace’s 1,079-page opus.

Good Drama • R • 106 mins.