American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Two years ago RogerEbert.com writer Steven Boone started the "Spit Take" award, which aims to celebrate one Ebertfest guest who made the Virginia Theater burst into laughter. In 2013, the prestigious prize was given to actor Michael Shannon, who brought the house down with a joke about his behind. In continuing this grand tradition, I'm officially awarding the 2015 spit take award to Jason Segel.
After delivering a convincing performance as author/critic/thinker David Foster Wallace in James Ponsoldt's "The End of the Tour," Segel and the emerging director walked on stage to discuss their labor of love. Moderated by Nate Kohn and Brian Tallerico, the rich conversation touched on everything from the immeasurable importance of Infinite Jest to why Wallace's writing helps abate the loneliness we all feel.
In on of many heartfelt monologues about the inimitable author, Segel explained "To me, what is so resonate about Wallace's writing .... is that he says we're all in this together. Where you feel like you're reading about yourself." There are sequences throughout "The End of the Tour" that deftly capture the foibles and follies of writers. As Ebertfest is not only a festival attended by many journalists, but founded by one, watching Ponsoldt's film was a particularly painful experience for some attendees. Through this unorthodox interviewer-interviewee relationship forged by David Lipsky (played with acute neuroticism by Jesse Eisenberg) and Wallace, the film manages to tap into the often untamable insecurities ingrained into writers.
But the movie doesn't merely hit home for those spend their lives putting pen to paper. After a question about whether this was a departure for the actor (who has mostly worked in comedy), Segel opened up about why he had to do this project.
"I think the goal of all art endeavors is honesty. I look back and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" was the first thing I wrote and that was as honest as I knew how to be at the time. There is so much humor in David Foster Wallace's writing that I really related to. But what I really related to more than anything was this idea that pleasure and achievement and entertaining are not going to satisfy this other feeling that you have about not being enough. I had just finished a TV show and doing a ton of interesting things. None of it scratched this other feeling of "Something is missing." So I didn't feel scared to do the movie because he's a surrogate for this thing that we don't always acknowledge but we all feel. Like, 'Isn't there supposed to be more than this?'"
The movies, even the great ones, are not enough. Television, even "Mad Men" or "Breaking Bad," is not enough. But Ebertfest, which is the perfect marriage of art and people, consumption and conversation, may just be.
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