Friday, April 24, 2015

IFFBoston 2015 Day #01: The End of the Tour

I felt like I got a slow start on Independent Film Festival Boston this year; normally, there is some time spent in work, poring over the schedule, trying to figure out what i'm going to see, but not so much this year. Maybe my time is being better-filled; maybe it's just getting harder for me to finish with one festival (including writing stuff up), which I sort of need to do mentally to focus on the next.

But it's started whether I was ready or not, although there were some hitches on the first night. The printer used to put a QR code on the film passes crapped the bed two spots ahead of me in line, so they wound up giving me an invisible badge:

There's a ticket inside that lanyard, and I'm not saying otherwise. They got it fixed, though, so no trying to fool them.

It delayed me getting into the auditorium enough that I thought almost all of the seats were taken, and I was settling into one way back and off-center when someone said that a WBUR tote bag on the seat meant it was open, despite my being trained to think "bag on seat" means "taken". Not the case here. Meant I could be in the front row (not so bad with an orchestra space and a stage).

Which means I got a decent, unobstructed photo of WBUR reporter Jack Lepiarz, star Jason Segel, and director James Ponsoldt, getting his second IFFBoston opening night film after The Spectacular Now. They had an interesting enough Q&A that I felt a bit odd about not really loving their movie; I don't think you can doubt their sincerity not just in trying to adapt the material well, but in what subject David Foster Wallace and his writing meant to them. It kind of had the opposite effect of similar sessions - they were so up front about what they were going for that I wound up internalizing that a bit, and it was hard not to have it in mind when talking about the movie itself, which was sort of dry for me through much of its running time. Maybe if it was more overtly about not being changed by success, even if you wanted to be, it would resonate more.

Also: Jason Segel is probably going to be asked Muppet stuff until the end of his days, and although I suspect that in this situation, he may sort of see that as a distraction, there are much worse things to be known for. He also seemed genuinely surprised that, after he gave a very self-deprecating answer about how nobody is looking for the likes of him when casting a movie like this, Ponsoldt went on about how he'd loved Segel since Freaks and Geeks and always thought there was more to him.

The End of the Tour

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

There are a lot of things that can be done with David Lipsky's interview of David Foster Wallace, and I don't think that a movie is at the top of the list. The magazine article it was originally intended for would supply analysis and context; a play might distill it; heck, animation might illuminate it. It would take a more ambitious movie than The End of the Tour to do much more than simply present it, and these people seem to deserve more.

The interview in question too place in 1996, when Wallace (Jason Segel) had just published Infinite Jest to tremendous praise and Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) had just started a job at Rolling Stone. Lipsky suggests shadowing Wallace during the last few days of his book tour to his editor, despite the magazine never doing features on writers, and it somehow comes together, with Lipsky traveling to Bloomington, Indiana, where Wallace teaches at a small college, before accompanying him to Minneapolis. The two hit it off, but reminders that Wallace has his issues are never far away.

Indeed, the film is bookended by scenes set after Wallace's suicide in 2008, a decision which seems both clumsy and like a missed opportunity. It's clumsy in that the three or four times that Wallace says something along the lines of "I'd rather be dead than X" is forced to carry a too-solemn irony, and it sets the film up as a search for the signs of his depression being so severe that what we see of the interview alone doesn't manage very well. On the other end, it seems to push the potentially interesting story of an ambitious Lipsky opting to revisit his tapes of the interview after Wallace's death into the background. A shame, because that's actually a fairly interesting ethical question to raise.

Full review on EFC.

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