Segel’s performance as brilliant but troubled Infinite Jest novelist David Foster Wallace in James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour, opening July 31, could be forgotten under the thundering hooves of autumn Telluride and Toronto Oscar vehicles. Think of Chadwick Boseman’s James Brown in Get on Up, an Oscar worthy performance that opened last year on August 1 and was all-but-forgotten in last year’s competitive Best Actor race.
Appreciating the bromantic duet between Segel’s Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg’s (compelling) Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky for a second time at the Nantucket Film Festival increased my passion for Segel’s performance. He restores Wallace not as that author you should have read (and probably didn’t) but as a brilliant writer who might not have been the most brilliant conversationalist or company.
With very little action, and articulating lines that are often intentionally inarticulate (Donald Margulies wrote the emotionally satisfying script), Segel creates a multi-layered portrait of a petty, generous, dog loving, soul searching, depression coping, American TV addict. His bandana-wearing Wallace struggles to carve out an authentic life in Bloomington, Indiana far away from the Manhattan literary buzz, which his character describes as the sound of egos rising and falling. What’s strong about the performance is that very lack of ego. It doesn’t take long before Segel loses himself in Wallace, alternately charming and antagonizing both Eisenberg’s Lipsky and the audience.
It will be an uphill battle for Segel. And one fought previously by actors who have made their reputations first as comedians: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Will Forte (Nebraska), Robin Williams (One Hour Photo), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls), Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig (The Skelton Twins), Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple) and even Jerry Lewis (The King of Comedy). The buzz that started at Sundance continues here.