When it was first announced that there would be a movie about David Foster Wallace — and that Jason Segel would be playing the late author — reactions were not exactly glowing, to say the least. While some hardcore Wallace films were excited to see the beloved writer get the big-screen treatment, many others were worried that no movie could do him justice. Comments from Wallace's estate condemning the film's creation and a much-maligned photo of Segel in character only made things worse. Now, though, the movie is finally out, and so the question becomes: does The End of the Tour get David Foster Wallace right?
Personally? I think it does. I'll admit, I'm not a massive fan of the author, or even all that familiar with his work (I've yet to get the courage to purchase, let alone read, Infinite Jest). Still, judging from what I've read about his look, thought process, and personality compared to what I saw in the movie, I truly think that The End of the Tour does justice to Wallace. First (and, admittedly, least importantly), there's his physical appearance. This is what David Foster Wallace looked like in real life:
And this is what he looks like in The End of the Tour, as portrayed by Jason Segel:
It's not identical, of course, but I think that as far as actors getting into character goes, Segel's transformation is a definite success. There's the hair and outfits, of course (not to mention that bandana), but focus on the face shape and body type: they're eerily similar. In terms of physicality, Segel is a perfect choice for the part.
Then there's the voice. In real life, Wallace spoke in a subdued, thoughtful manner, as you can see in this 1997 interview:
And here's the trailer for The End of the Tour, which features Segel speaking as Wallace:
Again, it's not perfection, but it does the job. Yet the most important aspect in the movie's portrayal of Wallace is, of course, the author's personality and behavior. Does the film put Wallace in a positive light, and represent the best aspects of his life and career? Well, not exactly; Wallace comes across as a clearly troubled man, which he was, who often lacks patience and has a surprising amount of anger (which was also apparently true). He's painted as the same reclusive, people-shy individual that he seemed to be in real life. I can understand why because of that, his family thinks any movie version of him, not just this one, is not what he would have wanted, but I strongly believe that The End of the Tour is a just portrayal of the author. His flaws are shown, yes, but so are all his best qualities: his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, and his kindness. From his care for his beloved dogs to his budding friendship with reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), Wallace is shown to be a complicated, but ultimately high-quality, human being.
Where the movie succeeds most is in its sympathy. As a viewer, you deeply feel for Wallace, and want badly for him to be well. The parts of the film that his estate probably hates most — when the author's fears, neuroses, and biggest flaws are discussed and analyzed — are the movie's very best. The End of the Tour realizes that people's worst qualities and deepest secrets are what makes them most interesting, and it's not afraid to make Wallace as human a character as anyone else.
I know that some people might still think that the movie shouldn't have been made, and that the real Wallace was a totally different guy than the one portrayed in the movie — I just disagree with them. The End of the Tour is a fantastic film that puts all of its characters, not just Wallace, in the most honest, realistic light possible. There's simply not a false note in the movie.
Images: A24 Films (2); Wikimedia Commons