18 August 2015 | jjustinjaeger
Could very well remain my favorite film of the year
Rarely am I enlightened by a film in the way I was by this one. Not that I was lectured or taught something, but that I had a visceral response to what I had experienced on screen that I wouldn't be able to explain but to ask you to recall a song or a book or a show that invited you to pour your soul into it and in return reminded you of what it was like to have one. I was reminded that films can do this.
I don't expect everyone to like it to the degree that I did because I can only base my strong inclination towards this movie on the connection I personally made with it which was emotional rather than intellectual, although the film is rich and lingering in its intellect as well, and of course; I recognize what makes this film profound, which I'll try to explain.
This is a talky film from director James Ponsoldt, who I'd now have to rank as one of my favorite contemporary directors after this and another I've seen and loved, The Spectacular Now. This director isn't one you'd normally find on a list ranking among the greatest working today because he's not about style and doesn't appeal to the ego as much as other contemporaries such as Wes Anderson and David Fincher do (in addition to many others, not to single them out). No, Ponsoldt is subtle and reserves his ego. He is unimposing on the lives of his characters and candid about what his films are trying to do and say, not hiding beneath film rhetoric or allegory or the impression of a representational work. And what's great about this is how his films point out that you don't need intricate sets or perfectly symmetrical shots to create beauty. This film has some of the most beautiful shots I've seen (the shot of them walking in the snow, the shot of the normally- withdrawn Wallace dancing), all the more so because of their subtlety, giving the feeling that the beauty was discovered and not created by the director.
But the beauty is often created by the actors. Ponsoldt trusts his actors and puts his efforts towards making the characters come alive before our eyes. I was under the fantastic impression that I was witnessing a completely real human soul with Segel's performance. He felt so real, so three dimensional. I understand him, even though I am not him. This is more magical to me than sweeping camera movements or extravagant art direction.
I didn't realize when watching the film that the dialogue is all based on, if not directly taken from, the tapes journalist (and protagonist) David Lipsky (Eisenberg) recorded of his interviewee, universally acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace (Segel). The dialogue is rich with insight into the character's thought processes and their observations on life (but mostly those of Wallace). I was riveted at every moment the two were talking, feeling as though being revealed before me were the truths of life. The thrill of being a fly on the wall. And it's not just the words containing the wisdom of the thoughtful and complicated Wallace, but the delivery via the actors and the way in which the many hours of tape are edited to allow Wallace's ideas and observations to resonate. Even beyond Wallace's ideas, the film cuts to the core and observes Wallace as a human being, not different for his brilliance but the same for his humanness.
The film is about so many things it would be overwhelming to attempt list all of them. Its ideas, however many, are all-encompassing of what it means to exist, which is, beyond the desire for fame and ego-boosts, to want to be understood. The film observes how the inner-worlds of all people are so uniquely complicated and pays tribute to that wonder. I'll be relating my experiences to this film in time to come.