Glenn Kenny started a bit of trouble (I’m told) online after writing a piece about how wrong The End of the Tour got David Foster Wallace. Kenny then writes a nice tribute to Wallace, with whom he had a friendship ongoing for many years. AO Scott writes:
Some of the people closest to Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, have condemned the movie sight unseen, and friends of his who did see it (one of them also a friend of mine) have found fault with both its details and its overall design. As an ardent, ambivalent reader of Wallace’s prose and a complete stranger to him personally, I can only respect such objections. But the movie, in my view, disarms them — not because it offers an especially loving or lifelike picture of its subject but rather because David Foster Wallace is not really its subject at all. “The End of the Tour” is at once an exercise in post-postmodern literary mythmaking and an unsparing demolition of the contemporary mythology of the writer. It’s ultimately a movie — one of the most rigorous and thoughtful I’ve seen — about the ethical and existential traps our fame-crazed culture sets for the talented and the mediocre alike.
The film’s best hope for Oscar is a supporting nod for Jason Segal – because Jesse Eisenberg is the lead and the Best Actor race is impossibly packed with little wiggle room. Scott writes of Segal (who got dressed down by Kenny):
Mr. Segel’s performance, whether it captures the true Wallace or not, is sharp and sensitive, in no small part because it’s modest and appropriately evasive. The essential David Wallace is precisely what the film reminds us we can’t see, even as David Lipsky wants desperately to track him down and display him to the readers of Rolling Stone. Wallace is caught in a familiar set of contradictions. He wants attention but craves solitude. He’s willing to collaborate with the machinery of publicity even as he worries about the phoniness of it all. He’s ambitious and eager to protect himself from the consequences of his ambition. In short, he’s a famous writer.
As such he is, for his short-term companion, both alpha dog and prey, an object of envy as well as admiration, a meal ticket and an imaginary friend. The film poses the question “Who is the real David Foster Wallace?” as a feint. He is its premise, its axiom, its great white whale. The more relevant question, the moral problem on which the movie turns, is “who is David Lipsky?”
Scott finishes his review this way:
You may find yourself wishing that he didn’t have to, which is to say wishing that “The End of the Tour” didn’t exist even as you hang on its every word and revel in its rough, vernacular beauty. In an ideal world, we would all sit at home reading “Infinite Jest” and then go out to eat hamburgers, argue about philosophy and watch cheesy action blockbusters. There would be no pseudo-authoritative biographies or prying, preening magazine profiles to complicate our pleasures, and ambitious actors would not dare to impersonate beloved novelists. But the world we live in is plagued by all of those things. There will always be films about writers and writing, and this one is just about as good as it gets.
I might have hated the movie as much as Glenn Kenny did if I’d been lucky enough to have known DFW. But alas. I suppose that AO Scott just made it okay to like the movie — and appreciate the performance–anyway.