(James Ponsoldt, 2015)
This is a modest film. Which is odd, since it attempts a portrayal of David Foster Wallace (played here, quite well, by Jason Segal), perhaps the greatest novelist of his generation, and one of the most interesting thinkers of his time. That portrayal comes in the form of a record of the trip he takes in the company of David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), who is interviewing him for a piece in Rolling Stone magazine. So, the majority of the film captures the two men deep in conversation: about art, about literature, about women and work, America and children, movies and food, New York and tv, college and sports, parents and dogs.
And - the odd shaft of Wallace with or wisdom, direct from Lipsky's book, aside - much of it isn't all that interesting or entertaining. Wallace struggles with how to present himself, how to avoid seeming pretentious or annoying, while Lipsky struggles with his own admiration and envy for his subject, while also needing to remain a cold-eyed assassin about a man he comes rapidly to feel affection for. The best material here has more or less nothing to do with the fact that the film is about David Foster Wallace; it is instead the scenes when the two men spend time with two women in Minneapolis, the last stop on Wallaces's book tour. Wallace struggles in these scenes with his own feelings of jealousy as Eisenberg's Lipsky seems to easily charm one of the women, an old college friend of the novelist. Eisenberg, blessed with such an easy command of social awkwardness in its many shades, vividly expresses Lipsky's unease and careful probing while Segal perhaps overdoes Wallace's regular-guy qualities. Ponsoldt avoids pyrotechnics, following the trail carefully to the emotional peak of the last act, capturing a wintry MidWest and a grey Minneapolis with economy.
Perhaps most pleasingly, the score is full of 1990s indie rock.