This film is a fictionalized look at the story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, Infinite Jest. The film is directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) and Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace was the main resource used by the screenwriter Donald Margulies.
Most of the film takes place during the winter in my hometown of Bloomington/Normal, Illinois where Wallace taught at my alma mater, Illinois State University, though the film was actually shot in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wallace had taken a teaching job at Illinois State University in 1993 while working on the final draft of Infinite Jest.
The film opens in 2008 as Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) hears that Wallace (Jason Segel) has died from suicide. He then pulls out the cassette tapes of his interviews with Wallace and we relive their time together twelve years earlier after Lipsky convinced his editor at Rolling Stone to send him to Bloomington to interview Wallace.
Wallace lives in Bloomington by himself with his two dogs. His life and his book speak of loneliness. He seems to be rather self-absorbed, to the point of it sapping his joy. About the only time we see him truly feeling joy is when he is dancing, at of all places a local Baptist church.
During their five days together Wallace tells Lipsky about his life, how he feels, what he thinks, what terrifies and fascinates and confounds him as they travel to St. Paul, Minnesota for the last stop on his book tour and then back to Bloomington. Wallace is always concerned about how he or his writings will be perceived by others, even down to the reason why he always wears a bandanna. Even with his newfound acclaim, he seems to always want to be seen as a regular guy. Throughout, Lipsky is recording Wallace and scribbling down notes for his article.
Joan Cusack portrays Patty, who escorts Wallace and Lipsky around St. Paul on the book tour. Mamie Gummer (Ricki and the Flash) portrays Julie, and Anna Chlumsky stars as Sarah, his former girlfriend from college. They hang out with Wallace and Lipsky in St. Paul eating and watching movies. But Patty, Julie and Sarah are just bit players in this film as the focus is squarely on Lipsky and Wallace in what could be a good stage play. And both actors deliver strong performances. I was particularly impressed with Segel, not having seen him in many films in the past.
I didn’t know anything about Wallace or his book despite the fact that he taught just down the street from our home, but the excellent acting performances in the film kept my attention and I found myself fascinated by the complicated and flawed Wallace.
Lipsky envies Wallace’s writing success and is looking for an angle for his article, perhaps something controversial, such as his rumored heroin use. In their short time together they develop a relationship, though Wallace can never truly relax around Lipsky, constantly being concerned with how he will be portrayed in the article Lipsky will be writing about him.
Wallace shares his bouts of depression and a time when he was on a suicide watch. We don’t find out anything specific about Wallace’s spiritual beliefs, but a quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola on the wall of his bathroom was of interest:
The film is rated R for language, including some sexual references. It is a good study in broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13). How we reach our goals and are at the pinnacle of success, but it still doesn’t satisfy; it doesn’t bring true joy. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie!