‘Tour’ a worthy look at artist as reluctant subject


A dialogue between Eisenberg and Segel on idols and fame

LOS ANGELES (AP) — “The End of The Tour” is the story of two Davids meeting at a crossroads.

One, acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, is at the peak of his success. The other, fellow writer David Lipsky, isn’t unsuccessful, but idly longs for Wallace’s talent and fame while on assignment for Rolling Stone magazine to profile the author.

The story went unpublished, but the recorded discussions between the men during the “Infinite Jest” press tour in 1996 were turned into a memoir after Wallace hung himself in 2008.

Those dialogues provided the bones of the film, out Friday, starring Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky, about that fraught, funny road trip through the Midwest.

Segel and Eisenberg continued the epic conversation with The Associated Press.

The remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.

___

AP: Did you find Lipsky sympathetic?

Eisenberg: Yes…he has this pressure to infiltrate this guy’s life and try to expose him. That’s not something that he necessarily wants to do.

Segel: One of David Foster Wallace’s real priorities was empathy. Part of what the movie is about is a guy desperately trying to treat this other guy with empathy and it slowly being worn away by time, exhaustion and the constant accusation of being a fraud.

Eisenberg: These guys were struggling with real demons and real feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.

AP: Is it ever wise to meet your idols?

Eisenberg: Probably not. If you like somebody’s book you should probably reread that instead of trying to meet them. I think of Philip Roth, because he’s so prolific, and like, oh, I heard he was not nice to somebody once. Why do you want that? To expect that is pretty selfish.

Segel: Maybe if you make a person have all of those characteristics, it lets you off the hook for not writing such great books.

Eisenberg: What do you mean?

Segel: If you deify your idol, it explains why you’re not that great.

Eisenberg: I imagine if it does matter to you, you’ll end up being disappointed if you have the rare opportunity to meet that person at Knicks game.

AP: Should the art stand for itself?

Segel: Lipsky makes a good point when he says ‘if your writing is so personal, then isn’t reading your work another version of meeting you?’ I think that’s right. That is meeting someone at their best. When you meet your idol out in the wild, they’re off the clock. They’re allowed to be, like, ‘I’m not working right now. I’m in a bad mood getting food.’

AP: That gets to Wallace’s anxieties about interviews and control. Your life rights go when you die, but do they also go when you’re interviewed?

Eisenberg: Wallace probably couldn’t understand how people like us do it…the scrutiny can be paralyzing.

Segel: I realized a little while ago that a good use of my time wasn’t sitting in my house saying I should be able to leave without being photographed. A good use of my time was figuring out what would allow me to function in a way that made me feel normal, happy and comfortable. For me it involved moving out of Los Angeles. Should I have to do that? No! But I want to be happy. I stopped looking at the internet for almost anything but tech news. Even then, sometimes there will be a weird side crawl with a picture of someone you know, or some weird headline.

Eisenberg: “Bill Gates Slams Segel!”

Segel: There’s a fallacy that’s thrown at you by paparazzi that ‘this is what you signed up for.’ It’s absolutely not true. I didn’t sign up for any of that.

Eisenberg: No?

Segel: I started pre camera phone.

Eisenberg: You’re saying actors who start now are signing up for it?

Segel: No, no. There’s a real distinction between people who are out in search of fame without a talent attached to it versus people who are good at a craft.

Eisenberg: Who draws the line? Who makes the call about whether you’re talented enough not to be hounded by paparazzi because you’re the real thing?

Segel: I think there are implicit rights to privacy. Like walking around with your kids.

Eisenberg: But you’re talking about the difference between what’s legal and what’s disrespectful. You open yourself up to it by being in a thing that’s public. It’s an obnoxious argument but they’re right.

Segel: You think it’s part of the deal?

Eisenberg: Whether I think it should be or not, it is. The fact that it exists means it’s part of the deal. If you’re aware that it’s part of the deal and you still agree to perform in things or be in the public, then you implicitly agree to those terms. That might be the annoying part of the agreement, but it’s part of it. All the other stuff is so good. … If I’m in an annoying situation, I try to remember, like, I’m getting a book published that went to the top of the pile because I’m in movies. Maybe it’s as good as the next thing, but I try to have that thought.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Many journalists who have written feature profiles of public figures will have experienced that light-bulb moment, once the cautious mutual-assessment phase is concluded and you start digging for the meat, when the subject perhaps casually reveals some illuminating aspect of him- or herself around which the entire article can be built. Those moments come thick and fast in “The End of the Tour,” James Ponsoldt’s exquisitely elegiac film about David Foster Wallace, examined over the course of a five-day interview with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, 12 years before the influential writer’s suicide in 2008 at age 46.

The same compassionate observation of human imperfections that distinguished Ponsoldt’s films “Smashed” and “The Spectacular Now” makes him an ideal interpreter of this material, while playwright Donald Margulies’ thoughtful screenplay brings tremendous insight into the way writers’ minds work. This is no conventional biodrama about the tortured artist, but very much the film that lovers of Wallace’s dazzlingly perspicacious fiction and essays would want.

Over the opening scenes, Jesse Eisenberg, playing Lipsky, describes reading Wallace as feeling “your eyelids pulled open,” and providing the actual sensation “of being David Foster Wallace.” That process of osmosis is an accurate enough description of what the filmmakers achieve, invaluably assisted by Jason Segel’s heartbreaking portrayal of the writer. This is a man of endless contradictions; he’s shaggy and sleepy-headed but sharp and always questioning, wryly candid but then unexpectedly defensive and guarded. The performance is easily Segel’s best work since “Freaks and Geeks,” devastating strictly on its own quiet terms.

While “The End of the Tour” is structured as a quasi-road movie with a post-mortem framing device, in many ways, this is not inherently cinematic subject matter. The film considers such intangibles as the illusory bond of friendship between ambitious interviewer and celebrated subject, professional envy, the loneliness of writing, the mental transference of reading, and the sheer exhilarating buzz of stimulating two-way conversation.

It also doesn’t shy away from the great themes that defined Wallace’s work, solitude in first position. It adopts the late writer’s perspective as the apologetic representative of a privileged, over-educated generation frequently destined to find disappointment in achievement. And it conveys the prescience of his vision of evolving information technology, foreseeing a future in which smart people would be in danger of spending their lives sitting alone, “immersed in pure unalloyed pleasure.” Essentially, this is a film about existential emptiness, and yet it’s beautiful and alive, as filled with humor as it is with melancholy.

Having read the rhapsodic reviews of Wallace’s encyclopedic 1,079-page 1996 novel Infinite Jest and then been somewhat crushed to find they weren’t exaggerating, Lipsky, himself a published fiction author of more modest success, pitched a feature to Rolling Stone, a magazine with scant history of profiling writers. He accompanied Wallace on the final leg of his book tour, but the interview was never published, its intimate revelations surfacing only later as a memoir following the subject’s untimely death.

The body language of the two leads could hardly be more of a contrast. Eisenberg is small and wiry, febrile in his intensity and always observing. He makes Lipsky both worshipful and slightly predatory, but he never loses the audience’s sympathy.

Segel’s large frame towers over Eisenberg. He ambles about in Wallace’s guise of granny glasses, straggly hippie hair wrapped in a bandanna, and anti-fashion apparel that marks him as resistant to his cresting fame, as does his unpretentious Midwestern speech.

For a movie that’s almost entirely driven by talk, this has a graceful fluidity thanks to Jakob Ihre’s elegant widescreen cinematography and Darrin Navarro’s editing, moving the action smoothly from place to place with unerring rhythm. And Danny Elfman’s gentle score serves to delicately coax out the story’s underlying sorrow.

“The End of the Tour,” an A24 release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “for language including some sexual references.” Running time: 106 minutes.

A dialogue between Eisenberg and Segel on idols and fame

LOS ANGELES (AP) — “The End of The Tour” is the story of two Davids meeting at a crossroads.

One, acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, is at the peak of his success. The other, fellow writer David Lipsky, isn’t unsuccessful, but idly longs for Wallace’s talent and fame while on assignment for Rolling Stone magazine to profile the author.

The story went unpublished, but the recorded discussions between the men during the “Infinite Jest” press tour in 1996 were turned into a memoir after Wallace hung himself in 2008.

Those dialogues provided the bones of the film, out Friday, starring Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky, about that fraught, funny road trip through the Midwest.

Segel and Eisenberg continued the epic conversation with The Associated Press.

The remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.

___

AP: Did you find Lipsky sympathetic?

Eisenberg: Yes…he has this pressure to infiltrate this guy’s life and try to expose him. That’s not something that he necessarily wants to do.

Segel: One of David Foster Wallace’s real priorities was empathy. Part of what the movie is about is a guy desperately trying to treat this other guy with empathy and it slowly being worn away by time, exhaustion and the constant accusation of being a fraud.

Eisenberg: These guys were struggling with real demons and real feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.

AP: Is it ever wise to meet your idols?

Eisenberg: Probably not. If you like somebody’s book you should probably reread that instead of trying to meet them. I think of Philip Roth, because he’s so prolific, and like, oh, I heard he was not nice to somebody once. Why do you want that? To expect that is pretty selfish.

Segel: Maybe if you make a person have all of those characteristics, it lets you off the hook for not writing such great books.

Eisenberg: What do you mean?

Segel: If you deify your idol, it explains why you’re not that great.

Eisenberg: I imagine if it does matter to you, you’ll end up being disappointed if you have the rare opportunity to meet that person at Knicks game.

AP: Should the art stand for itself?

Segel: Lipsky makes a good point when he says ‘if your writing is so personal, then isn’t reading your work another version of meeting you?’ I think that’s right. That is meeting someone at their best. When you meet your idol out in the wild, they’re off the clock. They’re allowed to be, like, ‘I’m not working right now. I’m in a bad mood getting food.’

AP: That gets to Wallace’s anxieties about interviews and control. Your life rights go when you die, but do they also go when you’re interviewed?

Eisenberg: Wallace probably couldn’t understand how people like us do it…the scrutiny can be paralyzing.

Segel: I realized a little while ago that a good use of my time wasn’t sitting in my house saying I should be able to leave without being photographed. A good use of my time was figuring out what would allow me to function in a way that made me feel normal, happy and comfortable. For me it involved moving out of Los Angeles. Should I have to do that? No! But I want to be happy. I stopped looking at the internet for almost anything but tech news. Even then, sometimes there will be a weird side crawl with a picture of someone you know, or some weird headline.

Eisenberg: “Bill Gates Slams Segel!”

Segel: There’s a fallacy that’s thrown at you by paparazzi that ‘this is what you signed up for.’ It’s absolutely not true. I didn’t sign up for any of that.

Eisenberg: No?

Segel: I started pre camera phone.

Eisenberg: You’re saying actors who start now are signing up for it?

Segel: No, no. There’s a real distinction between people who are out in search of fame without a talent attached to it versus people who are good at a craft.

Eisenberg: Who draws the line? Who makes the call about whether you’re talented enough not to be hounded by paparazzi because you’re the real thing?

Segel: I think there are implicit rights to privacy. Like walking around with your kids.

Eisenberg: But you’re talking about the difference between what’s legal and what’s disrespectful. You open yourself up to it by being in a thing that’s public. It’s an obnoxious argument but they’re right.

Segel: You think it’s part of the deal?

Eisenberg: Whether I think it should be or not, it is. The fact that it exists means it’s part of the deal. If you’re aware that it’s part of the deal and you still agree to perform in things or be in the public, then you implicitly agree to those terms. That might be the annoying part of the agreement, but it’s part of it. All the other stuff is so good. … If I’m in an annoying situation, I try to remember, like, I’m getting a book published that went to the top of the pile because I’m in movies. Maybe it’s as good as the next thing, but I try to have that thought.

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