A 24                 106 minutes                R

The End of the Tour is a tour de force for Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg. If you think you’d be bored watching them spar with words as a Rolling Stone reporter (Eisenberg) interviewing Writer David Foster Wallace (Segel)….think again. This is a tough movie to make because it's plot is absurdly simple and contains no outward action or drama.

Segel told us at our screening in Chicago that this was a major challenge for him. It was a major departure. He’s known for wacky comedy in film and on TV. He also knew that he was not the first actor considered for this role and he admitted being terrified!  

Segel described making of this film like art imitating life. Because of schedule conflicts, the two stars only met once before they started shooting and their first scene is when the writers meet for the first time! Let the banter begin. How much did they rehearse? Segel said “ZERO!” They ended up developing their relationship and characters “in tandem,” going over lines riding in the car together to and from wherever they were shooting.

Eisenberg plays David Lipsky trying to get the attention of his editor (Ron Livingston) so he can get on staff at the magazine. Lipsky pitches doing a feature profile on Foster, played by Segel. Foster has written a novel, huge in size (more than a thousand pages) and seismic in it’s impact on the younger generation in 1996. “Infinite Jest” is considered a masterpiece and Lipsky records their conversations during a 5-day road trip at the end of his book tour.

Pulitzer prize winner David Margulies wrote the screenplay based on Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, published after Wallace committed suicide at the age of 46. Both men were 34 at the time of the interviews and, ironically, both actors were 34 during the shoot. Margulies was attracted to creating a script from a book that he thought was “unfilmable.” He worked solely from the book and did not listen to the taped conversations between Wallace and Lipsky.

Director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now, a former college student of Margulies and former intern at The Rolling Stone) had the cast listen to the tapes which was never published in the magazine. Segel told us he listened to them all! He also told us that he was in a book club in New England that read 100 pages a week of Infinite Jest and got together to discuss it. He also said there was a crew member named Josh who was into David Foster Wallace and gave him more food for thought. Talk about immersion. It pays off in his performance. This is Jason Segel as you’ve never seen him before.

He plays the established and published writer who is painfully shy and doesn’t want, or know how to handle, his notoriety. He’s an intellectual who can’t figure out why people like his book so much. His basic premise is that everyone is the same but he’s being singled out with fame and adulation, and is uncomfortable with it. He lives alone in a house with dogs. (By the way, Segel says the most difficult actors to work with were the dogs! He said, “They have no idea they’re ACTING!” The crew had to fill his and Eisenberg’s pant cuffs with salmon and put peanut butter on his face to get the dogs to do what what was needed in scenes.)

Lipsky starts the interview at Wallace’s house in rural Bloomington, Indiana in Winter. Lipsky, the author of a minor piece of fiction himself, wants badly to be Wallace or like him and accomplish what the author has already achieved. Tension grows between them on this road trip. It’s even bugs Lipsky when his girlfriend (played by Amy Chlumsky) drools over Wallace when she calls to see how the interview is coming.

Segel agreed with us that their interaction becomes like a dance back and forth. They circle around each other, trying to keep the conversation going and the information coming without stepping over the line. It’s often uncomfortable to watch, but also compelling.You don’t know who’s going to cause enlightenment or an explosion. You get both when you least expect it.

Joan Cusack plays the book tour publicist who is trying to wrangle these guys and keep them in check. She’s funny in a sad way. Mamie Gummer contributes the right amount of angst as a devoted fan who becomes Foster Wallace’s friend. And Mickey Sumner, daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler plays Wallace’s ex girlfriend.

Is this worth your bucks? The real Lipsky spent five days taping Wallace, but the story never got published. That's the entire film. The performances and direction by James Ponsoldt, with the words, interplay, tension and jealousy lurking beneath the surface, are what make this work so watchable.

But this is Segel and Eisenberg’s movie. Segel praised Eisenberg’s for being so smart and thoughtful. He also called Margulies a genius. His script was on the famous “Blacklist” of unproduced works in 2013. Not any more. David Foster Wallace thinks we may all be the same, but this film is different, and definitely worth seeing.

Click for Trailer