Glenn Kenny has written a not-yet-posted piece for Vulture that takes issue with the portrayal of the late author David Foster Wallace in James Ponsoldt‘s The End of the Tour. It won’t appear until just before the film opens on 7.31, but it’ll probably be fairly interesting as Kenny knew the late writer fairly well (as an editor as well as on purely personal terms) and considered him a pally of sorts. He told me this morning that Tour is a “really inaccurate” portrait of what Wallace was like as a person.
I replied that it can’t be that inaccurate as Donald Margulies‘ script is based on David Lipsky‘s book, “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” which is largely based on cassette recordings of his conservations with Wallace when he was interviewing him in ’96 (when Wallace was 34) for a Rolling Stone piece.
Kenny had strong retorts but those are on background. As noted, his piece is up later this month.
Margulies knew Ponsoldt from having taught him writing at Yale, and sent him the script directly. Margulies had no idea if he even knew who Wallace was but thought on the basis of his other films (The Spectacular Now, Smashed) that he would be perfect. It turned out Ponsolt was a Wallace devotee who had waded heavily into “Infinite Jest” at college and had read almost everything else Wallace had written. He even quoted Wallace’s “This Is Water” commencement speech at his own wedding.
During last night’s Aero q & a Ponsoldt told Deadline‘s Pete Hammond he was very aware of the online fervor about messing with Wallace and was consciously aware of that while making the film.
I found The End of the Tour stifling. And yet I felt a faint allegiance with the film when the Wallace literary estate said it wasn’t endorsing it, apparently out of a belief that Wallace would have never agreed to or endorsed such a film. From what I can gather Wallace didn’t agree with or endorse very much in his life. He was a twitchy contrarian guy who hated invasive attention in general and had issues with a lot of things. He wanted to sell and be heard but he wanted to be left alone and certainly didn’t want guys like Lipsky burrowing in and taking copious notes about every last detail about his manner and home life and dogs and whatnot.
I sat there watching Jason Segel‘s Wallace and asking myself “what is it about this grungy, hulking, unshaven, hippie-bandana guy living in this grim, snow-covered Illinois gulag who, yes, had an arresting prose style and enjoyed the rapt respect of the literary world…what is it that’s so fascinating and cinematic about him? Because I’m not seeing it.”
I’m not giving much away to state that Kenny didn’t care for the “genius-behemoth” thing Segel does with the character, which he described as “horseshit.”
I was sitting there last night and saying to myself, “Look, I’m a a writer also, okay? Not being an asshole I recognize the gap between my column riffs and and Wallace’s award-level writings but I nonetheless dig into stuff daily on a fairly demanding basis and I know a thing or two about the process and the toll of scraping your insides and writing from true revealing places. So why is it exactly that I’m sitting here in the Aero theatre and watching this film again?”
Other that the fact that I need to see it, of course, because it’s a Ponsoldt film and it’s being released by the guys at A24, whom I respect.
I really was feeling more and more pissed as I sat there. Why am I fucking watching this? I was also wondering why anyone thought Lipsky’s book was worth filming. Because I know a lot of this stuff (writing, being an interviewer, dealing with famous and semi-famous people) and I’m really not sensing the presence of a movie here. I really didn’t give that much of a shit about it or more particularly about Wallace’s relationship with Lipsky and vice versa or, really, hulking bandana boy himself.
I so disliked The End of the Tour that I escaped from the theatre from one of the rear exits for fear that I might run into Ponsoldt in the lobby. Sorry but that’s what happened.