Having graduated college in the 1970s, I had never heard of David Foster Wallace until I saw End of the Tour, based on David Lipsky’s best-selling memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Lipsky, a writer for Rolling Stone, interviewed Wallace over a four day- period back in 1996. The movie chronicles Lipsky’s interview as he speaks with Wallace at his home and on a book tour promoting his then recently released novel, Infinite Jest.
As I began watching the film, I immediately asked myself, “how is this going to work?” Will it simply be a regurgitation of Lipsky following Wallace around, asking the same questions he asked Wallace which ended up in his memoir? And what of Wallace himself? Was he really that remarkable a character that he deserved having an indie biopic made about him, let alone starring the eminent thespians, Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel? Was Infinite Jest the true masterpiece most of the critics said it was? It took James Joyce 40 years before he came out with the brilliant Ulysses—Wallace had comparatively scant time to churn out Infinite Jest. Nonetheless, I did not and still have not read the book and I realised it was incumbent upon me to keep an open mind regarding Wallace’s legacy.
Fortunately, the performances, and noted playwright Donald Margulies’ erudite screenplay, sucked me in. The film begins with Eisenberg as Lipsky hearing the news in 2008 of David Foster Wallace’s suicide. We then flash back to Lipsky convincing his boss at Rolling Stone Magazine to allow him to interview Wallace—permission is granted and Lipsky travels to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, near where Wallace teaches at the state university.
Wallace permits Lipsky to tape record their conversations, with the proviso that he not use certain “quotes” deemed “off the record.” We learn that Wallace used to be addicted to television and no longer has one and that he has a great love for his two dogs. Lipsky creates friction when he intrusively probes about Wallace briefly being institutionalized when he was younger due to depression.
The long-winded interview at the home might have been tiresome but fortunately the venue shifts to Wallace’s book tour, where the interviewer and interviewee end up in a book store in Minneapolis. Margulies–working from Lipsky’s additional notes to his book about his interview Wallace–adds in some conflict when Wallace believes Lipsky is flirting with one of two of Wallace’s female friends they meet while on the tour. The friction in the air is quite palpable as Lipsky accuses Wallace of not owning his talent by adopting a “nice guy” act.
After they return, the conflict between the two becomes more pronounced as Lipsky (at the behest of his editor) questions Wallace about his purported history of heroin abuse. Wallace takes umbrage and states those are just rumors put out by gossip mongers and columnists.
The two manage to patch things up and part as friends. Lipsky speaks highly of Wallace after his death, during his own book tour.
Jason Segel, mainly known for his comedy, is excellent as the philosophical Wallace. And Eisenberg, playing against type, presents Lipsky as a somewhat controlling, hard-edged, overly competitive journalist. Margulies, adopting from both Lipsky’s book and notes, manages to keep you interested despite the non- visual nature of the material.
Despite Wallace’s desire to come off as an ordinary everyman, Marguiles manages to uncover enough idiosyncrasies to suggest that he was more than just an ordinary character. At times somewhat slow-moving, End of the Tour at the denouement, manages to end up fairly absorbing.