True-life films seem to be trendy at the moment, with countless films around at the moment based on true stories. Jesse Eisenberg plays David Lipsky, who is working for Rolling Stone. It is his book that the film is based on. He manages to convince his boss that interviewing a popular author could make for a good article, claiming that the author he wants to interview isn’t like other authors. He is one of a kind, and Lipsky compares him to Hemingway and Pynchon. He is finishing a book tour to promote his book and Lipsky wants to ride shotgun.
Reluctantly, his boss agrees and it isn’t long til Lipsky is in his car, on his way to meet the author, David Foster Wallace, at his house. Wallace is a shy man and is very apprehensive at first, but gradually begins to trust Lipsky the more they talk. However, Lipsky’s insistence on recording everything said seems to make Wallace feel uncomfortable, who is understandably worried about how the story will turn out and how he will be perceived by the public.
More than once he is reminded, “you agreed to the interview”.
I love the concept of a journalist weaseling into a famous person’s life, in this case an author, as it can only breed fascinating scenarios and can also really blur the line between a friendship and an interview. This happens the more the two talk, and the more personal the questions become. Tellingly though, if Wallace asks “what about you?” after answering a personal question, Lipsky deflects it, reminding Wallace of the reality of their relationship; that he is interviewing him. They aren’t friends.
Wallace may be a popular author but he struggles to cope with the success and fame his book has brought him, and we get to know him well the more Lipsky interviews him. Struggling to cope with fame is certainly not an original premise but Wallace is a deeper character than that. To begin the movie he has no self-confidence and is very cynical. The more he says the more we get an idea as to why that is. It is easy to feel for him, he is a great character, beginning the movie extremely distressed by the whole situation. It is interesting to watch him as he becomes more comfortable and more open about his life and his past. He talks with passion and embodies the sort of shy person who has so much to offer, but is too hard on themselves to find anyone. He therefore is left with a lot of time to think, and this is made clear in the way Wallace passionately talks about various theories he has, ranging from his view of television to his own fame, and how (or if) he should act accordingly.
It is clear that Lipsky has never met someone quite like Wallace, and from the beginning we can see that he enjoys his writing. The nature of their conversations combined with Wallace’s unique personality affect Lipsky as he forces himself to poke deeper and deeper into Wallace’s personal life, unable to gauge what his reaction will be. He certainly has to overcome his own limitations – as the two become closer to being friends, he has to force himself to ask the hard questions.
The job always comes first.
The second half of the film ramps up the tension as Lipsky begins to act increasingly passive-aggressive, which does not go unnoticed. The two begin to have increasingly heated conversations and it becomes impossible to predict how the film will end. Or more specifically, if their relationship will end, as the two disagree with increasing regularity, the words of each man containing rising amounts of venom.
If you couldn’t tell already, this is very much a dialogue driven film, and the script has been written with obvious care as Wallace makes his opinions and ideals very clear, while Lipsky is forced to adapt to Wallace’s somewhat eccentric personality. It may sound simple but it is paced well and is never boring; this again is due to Wallace’s personality and the fact Lipsky is writing an article. Every conversation is interesting because the potential for conflict is always there. It is a neat concept and it works well.
Comparisons to Almost Famous seem inevitable, and unfortunately this flick doesn’t reach the heights of that fantastic flick. It is however a very fascinating character and relationship study, as both characters are multi-dimensional and their exact relationship is never quite clear. The film’s best asset is this relationship that the two men form, however unusual it may be, not to mention the conversations that spring from the situation they find themselves in. The tagline for the film is “Imagine the greatest conversation you’ve ever had.” Very apt.
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