Themes of mental illness and addiction have been a requisite part of the Sundance Festival, but rarely are they approached with the type of deliberate, yet delicate touch of a Director like James Ponsoldt. Often times, films about self-depricating artists will take one of two paths. The first path being that of glamorization, and films which take this route teach us that addiction and illness aren’t sicknesses at all, but are rather the sexy border pieces that make up the complex puzzle that that is the artist. The second route being that of a pornographic “Passion of the Christ” type approach. These types of films attempt to use pure visceral force to bombard its audience in overabundance. Thankfully, Ponsoldt takes a different route, onje far less traveled by.
Instead of making a film about David Foster Wallace in the days leading up to his eventual suicide, Ponsoldt rewinds the clock to bring us a Wallace who is in the height of both his fame, and mental togetherness. The audience is never made fully aware of the extent of Wallace’s depression, though it is often hinted at. Much as it can be in the real world, the true nature of the sickness is manifested behind closed doors, hidden from outsider view.
For the role of David Lipsky, there was no better choice than that of Jessie Eisenberg. The actor has always been at home playing awkward, borderline condescending, adolescents, and the role of Lipsky called for just that. The crass, pretentious nature of Lipsky makes him a man that one would probably not want to enter a conversation with, but makes him one heck of a fun character to watch on screen.
For the comedic actor, it can be painstaking work to break free from that “funny guy” stigma. Rarer still, is finding an actor who posses the chops to do so. With End of the Tour, Segal proves that he is one of these actors.
At all times engaging and interesting, Segal’s performance grabs your attention from the very start, and never lets go. If End of the Tour were a work of fiction, it would easy to believe that this role were written specifically with Segal in mind. A curious googling of David Foster Wallace head shots might even be enough to send some Twilight Zone vibes down your spine- the likeness is uncanny. Where Segal’s career is concerned, End of the Tour is a revelation, and might be his first stepping stone on the path to one day winning an oscar. Dramatic actors, you are all now on notice.
Perhaps more shocking than the breakthrough performance by Segal, is the scaled back score offered up by Danny Elfman. Elfman has a flare for bombastic orchestrations that are as much as part of the cast as any physical actor, but for End of the Tour, he tastefully decides to slip away to the background, weaving his melancholic melodies in and out of the audience’s consciousness. His beautiful score is ever present, but at no point does it steal away the attention away from the film’s principal actors.
In the end, the idea of watching Sundance film about David Foster Wallace, featuring Jessie Eisenberg might carry a little too much pretentious weight for some, but for a film that most exudes the aura of being a Sundance Film, End of the Tour is most certainly not your typical Sundance film. Observant, witty, and at no time too heavy-handed, it is one of the true gems of this years Sundance festival, and one of the best films of the year so far.