When comedic actors venture into drama, it can go one of two ways. They can be great, like Adam Sandler in “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) or Steve Carrell in “Foxcatcher” (2014). Or, they can be terrible, like Vince Vaughn in “Psycho” (1998) or Jim Carrey in “The Number 23” (2007). So when I heard that Jason Segel of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008) and “How I Met Your Mother” fame was stepping into the dramatic world as author David Foster Wallace, I was a bit worried. Segel doesn’t seem like the guy who would do a vanity piece, showing he is more than just a dopy comedian, but I wasn’t sure he had the acting chops to pull this off.
Boy was I wrong. Jason Segel gives the best performance of 2015 so far in “The End of the Tour”, a complex and fascinating road trip movie about the famed author and his book ‘Infinite Jest’.
Jesse Eisenberg plays David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone writer who is assigned to write a piece on author David Foster Wallace (Segal). Lipsky meets up with Wallace on the tail end of his book tour for his magnum opus ‘Infinite Jest’, and travels with him to book readings and signings. Through this time, Lipsky and Wallace appear to form a bond, though they both have reservations about the other, causing the two to never fully trust each other and cause some friction as the trip goes on.
Director James Ponsoldt continues his impressive streak following 2012’s “Smashed” and 2013’s “The Spectacular Now”. He is becoming one of the best directors in independent cinema today. He has a gift for taking complex characters and simple stories about life moments and making them as exciting and riveting as any movie out today. He reminds me of David O. Russell, which excites me for his future as a filmmaker.
The performances are some of the year’s best. Jesse Eisenberg gives his best performance since his Oscar nominated turn in “The Social Network” (2010). As an admirer of Wallace, Lipsky needs to balance his fandom and professionalism, while also trying to get a story he is not comfortable with. Eisenberg does this with great ease and charm, which is unusual for the actor. Usually playing cold, snarky characters like that of his performance as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network”, he gives Lipsky a charm and warmth that makes us like him and empathize with him, even when he is sometimes pressing Wallace too hard. It is a great performance that ranks as one of Eisenberg’s best.
Jason Segel is a revelation as David Foster Wallace. He disappears into the role of the author, becoming nearly unrecognizable with long hair, bandana, and different speaking patterns, unlike anything he has ever done. Foster is a sweet, complicated, tortured, brilliant man who despises the fame that he has received from the book and Segel hits all of these notes masterfully. This is truly one of the best performances of the year, and one that deserves awards attention at the end of the year.
It isn’t too often that a movie that relies so heavily on its performances is so good. But, in the hands of Ponsoldt and with two gifted actors, “The End of the Tour” becomes one of the best movies of the year. It’s a sincere, compelling, unorthodox road movie featuring two of the best performances of the year.
MY RATING – 4/4
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