Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. With the Academy Awards right around the corner, we’re suggesting the perfect pairings for this year’s Best Picture nominees—movies to watch with, or instead of, each of them.
Some movies consider themselves important with a capital I, and others just quietly convey human drama until you realize the importance lies in what remains unsaid. There are some obvious structural parallels between the hug-it-out uplift of Green Book and the smaller, more oblique narrative of 2015’s The End Of The Tour, an account of Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky’s days-long interview with the author David Foster Wallace, including the final appearance on his book tour for Infinite Jest. They’re both essentially two-handers, entrusting the heavy lifting to a pair of actors, and they both feature two men who start off as strangers, slowly warming to one another on the road and off. Both are also based on true stories, as recounted by only one of the men involved.
Perhaps the most crucial commonality, though, is that these are films that depend heavily on their leads. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are easily in the top echelon of Hollywood actors currently working, so it’s gratifying but not exactly surprising to see them turn what could have been little more than sentient stereotypes into actual people. Whether or not you think the film works, their chemistry undeniably does. The End Of The Tour does something similar, but is all the more remarkable for how unexpected it was, especially in regards to one half of its acting equation.
As Lipsky, the journalist who sees something exciting in Wallace where his editor just sees a writer (yawn!), Jesse Eisenberg offers a fascinating mix of envy, adulation, and amiability. He’s someone who can’t help but roil in jealousy over a man who has seemingly everything Lipsky covets as a writer: critical acclaim, commercial success, even that elusive cultural cachet we’ll loosely call “cool.” Lipsky ends up really liking Wallace, true, but that friendship is always interlaced with knotty issues of careerism, fame, and access. Eisenberg finds the relatable in the wary, the soul in the schemer.
But just as Ali and Mortenson play off of each other to deliver deeper performances, Eisenberg finds a then-unexpected equal in Jason Segel. Prior to this, Segel had been carving out a successful but not exactly adventurous filmography as the beleaguered goof, parlaying his cult hit Freaks And Geeks into membership in Judd Apatow’s stable of “regular guy” performers, and then wider success on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Even when he branched into writing his own starring roles, in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Five-Year Engagement, the results didn’t stray far from the persona he had carved out—the genial everyman, lovable with a thin lining of melancholy on the inside to make him more rounded. The closest he had come to stretching himself was in the Duplass brothers’ Jeff, Who Lives At Home, where he applied his signature sweetness to a mumblecore version of an Apatovian eternal adolescent.
But Tour finally demonstrated that Segel was capable of not just breaking out of his standard character type (and comfort zone) but also undergoing a genuine transformation. His David Foster Wallace is the kind of performance that should be the gold standard for portraying real people: eerily accurate locutions and mannerisms, combined with a lived-in resemblance that is more evocative than some note-perfect impersonation. (Though he does look eerily like Wallace at times.) Segel’s brooding, insecure delivery seems to bring out contrapuntal energy from Eisenberg, who is usually the one doing such work, and the two elevate potentially biopic-humdrum exchanges into a live-wire chemistry, turning a book tour in which very little happens into a stirring meditation on fleeting encounters with lost souls. It’s a brief interview with two non-hideous, all-too-understandable men.
Availability: The End Of The Tour is available to rent or purchase from the major digital services. It can also be obtained on Blu-ray or DVD from Netflix, Amazon, or possibly your local video store/library.