David Foster Wallace is an ordinary guy. He reads obsessively, eats junk food en masse, is addicted to watching TV, wonders what it is like when Alanis Morissette eats a bologna sandwich and lives his life with a nagging feeling of emptiness. Wallace self-diagnoses his problem as an extension of his Americanism, one that taught him that obtaining X or Y is how he would achieve happiness. Yes, David Foster Wallace is just another typical American consumer, he’s just more aware of it. That is probably why he also happens to be a well-regarded and respected writer, the voice of his generation.
David Lipsky is Wallace without the success. He has a few books under his belt, some articles for the Times, New Yorker and Rolling Stone, but no one has bestowed Lipsky with a mantel similar to the one Wallace sports. Still grasping at X and Y in an attempt to be happy, Lipsky isn’t listening to what Wallace is saying because he’s much too eager to capture what Wallace might reveal.
Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg play Wallace and Lipsky respectively in director James Ponsoldt’s, The End of the Tour, an adaptation of Lipsky’s memoir, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, about the fiveday road trip Lipsky took with Wallace at the conclusion of Wallace’s tour to promote his novel Infinite Jest.
Segel plays Wallace like a grown-up Holden Caulfield, a painfully honest man who wants nothing more than to sit and talk. Eisenberg plays Lipsky like a hungry young reporter trying to make his bones off Wallace’s success, regardless of what Wallace may want. After all, Lipsky’s girlfriend isn’t at home reading his novels, she’s pouring through Infinite Jest.
This overall sense of inadequacy is what drives both of the Davids. In the case of Wallace, that inadequacy is the lack of human connection in his life. Wallace lives with two dogs isolated in Bloomington, Illinois. When Lipsky comes knocking, Wallace delicately, but eagerly, engages. Lipsky listens like the good little reporter that he is, nodding along at all the right moments, but really he’s just waiting to slip in questions about suicide, alcoholism and heroin addiction.
It is these moments where Segel clearly shines, pausing briefly before each answer with a look of disappointment coming over his face. A reminder that that which separates the creative artist (Wallace) and the commercial artist (Lipsky) is not the search for truth but on what surface that truth lies. Wallace wants to discuss what is happening beneath, while Lipsky is only concerned with the sensationalism on top.
This aspect of discourse, and Segel’s performance, makes The End of the Tour a beautiful reflection of Wallace’s work, specifically Wallace’s signature novel, Infinite Jest. Although it runs 1,079 pages, Wallace only needs five lines to make it count: “I’m not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you’d let me, talk and talk.”
ON THE BILL: ‘The End of the Tour.’ Century Boulder, 1700 29th St.,Boulder, 303-444-0583. Tickets start at $7.65 at cinemark.com.