"This conversation is the best one I ever had," David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) tells us in The End of the Tour, and the movie, a pleasantly talky chamber piece, gives us welcome bursts of it. That long chat, with a David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) abashed by the recent success of Infinite Jest, gets more screentime than you might expect but not as much as you might hope, especially after its rousing peak: Wallace explaining why he has a poster of Alanis Morissette.
In 1996, Lipsky, a novelist, journeyed to Bloomington, Illinois, to interview Wallace for Rolling Stone. As Lipsky tells it in the memoir from which the film is adapted, he and Wallace were warily friendly. Lipsky envies Wallace's success, but Wallace seems to envy Lipsky's ease, with publishing and with women — and to regard that ease as somehow un-humble. "I don't want to appear in Rolling Stone looking like I want to be in Rolling Stone," Wallace says, a succinct summation of Nineties alt-culture's ambivalence toward fame.
The talk continues, much of it transcribed from the real Lipsky's tape recordings, in cars, hotels, the Mall of America. (Since the perspective is Lipsky's, the Midwest is out of focus, a backdrop for Wallace.) But it peters out, the men getting competitive and the camera nosing into their faces.
Eisenberg is excellent as a prickly, somewhat jealous writer. Segel's Wallace doesn't quite seem to believe he has become the great new American novelist, which is fitting since Segel himself sometimes looks like he can't quite believe he's supposed to be Wallace. Segel's eyes seem downstream from the words he speaks rather than at their headwaters -- like us, he's keeping up.