Independent Film Festival Boston – Day 1: ‘The End Of The Tour’

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Last night kicked off the 13th Annual Independent Film Festival Boston at Somerville Theater. People were lining up in droves to be able to see director James Ponsoldt’s (The Spectacular Now) new project that premiered at Sundance, The End of the Tour.

Once everyone filed into the massive main auditorium, the fest’s Executive Director, Brian Tamm, took the stage to welcome everyone and to thank the sponsors. Ponsoldt came out to give a quick introduction to the film, as well. The energy in the room was palpable, further proving that this year’s tagline, “Gather Round,” spoke truth to all of the audience members. Above everything, the fest is dedicated to bringing a sense of community to avid cinephiles everywhere with these great stories being projected for their viewing pleasure. Check in with UTG from today till next Thursday to see our in-depth coverage of IFF Boston. Anyway, I think it’s high time we talk about The End of the Tour.


The End Of The Tour

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There’s a logical break between the value we put on something that will make us ‘happy’ vs. if it makes us happy. We write, watch, learn, love, and strive in hoping that the payoff for our hard work will be more sufficient, life-affirming even. We get jealous at the ones we grow up thinking are ‘successful.’ It’s what most of us have been trained to do since infancy and into the adult years. So where does the buck stop? What happens if we truly are unhappy after achieving success? That’s one question, of many, that director James Ponsoldt and writer Donald Marguiles pose to the audience with The End of the Tour.

Ponsoldt’s newest tells the story of Rolling Stone journalist/author David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) who accompanied author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) on the end of his book tour for Infinite Jest in February 1996. Lipsky believed Wallace would be an amazing interview. What he didn’t foretell was how his life was going to change because of his relationship with Wallace. The film follows (for the most part) those five days in both Lipsky’s and Wallace’s lives.

The film starts out with Lipsky getting the news about Wallace’s death in 2008. Lipsky slips into this somber version of himself, almost muted. The death forces him to reevaluate his time with the author. Flashback to 1996, Lipsky holsters some resent towards Wallace because of his success with Infinite Jest. After being given the official assignment, Lipsky travels to Illinois to meet the man. What he’s confronted with is totally different than what he expects. Wallace is a soft-spoken man humble about his work who almost values his loneliness. Their two personalities collide, of course.

Segel should be heralded (if he isn’t already) for his performance as David Foster Wallace. This is coming from someone who doesn’t know about any of Wallace’s work. Instead of divulging into these loud, hilarious rants that we are so used to seeing in Segel’s work, he restrains himself to show the pure neurosis of this tortured artist. Wallace keeps bringing up how he sees the future being loneliness by way of technology. That the tech we surround ourselves with will end up being our lives instead of becoming part of our lives. When it comes from the mouth of parents, it’s filed under unimportant information. But when it’s coming from someone who has achieved literary success and still feels lonely, it resonates and that’s partially due to Segel’s immensely humanizing performance. Our art may go onto influence people, but the sad truths that come through in the authorial voice are much more troubling.

The End of the Tour uses two men going on a road trip as a platform to delve into their own neuroses, fears, aspirations, and worldviews. No, this isn’t one of those raucous road trips that end in one of the main characters getting laid. This is the kind of film where the characters get underneath each other’s skin, harbor resent, and lash out in the smallest ways possible. Lipsky and Wallace aren’t raucous people, but they speak earnestly. When their anger takes over, they display it in silence or sipping from a beer bottle silently but aggressively. Segel and Eisenberg are at the top of their game here. More than anything, their moments together feel lived-in, never fake.

Ponsoldt is no slouch with making earnest moments out of having people talk about their insecurities. The Spectacular Now did it and so did Smashed, or so I hear. His dialogue scenes are like testimonials without coming off as theses. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is a monologue about insecurities. Ponsoldt is fantastic at humanization of people we may put on pedestals, and it is no different here. Sure, this one is shot almost like a documentary where the viewer plays a bystander looking in. That doesn’t hinder any of the power the film gives off, though.

The End of the Tour has moments of pure somber emotion, fits of gut-busting laughter, and stretches of two actors at the top of their game. I can’t think of a better way to open up IFF Boston this year.

GRADE: B+


Segel and Ponsoldt stayed after for a 40-plus minute Q&A where they answered questions ranging from their mindsets during production to the status on another Muppet movie. Luckily, both of them were good sports. Segel stated that he wanted to get across to the audience that Wallace is the same as the rest of us. Ponsoldt told everyone that his intent was to make “a platonic love story” about these two men.

The opening night party at Orleans restaurant in Somerville provided some fresh atmosphere and great discussion on film. Segel and Ponsoldt stayed until 1am chatting with anyone coming their way. After all, they did just make a film about authors being like everybody else.

Tonight, I will be checking out Andrew Bujalski’s Results and Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge.

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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