Far be it from me to tell the nearest and dearest friends and survivors of David Foster Wallace, a great many of whom have said some pretty withering things about the beatifying biopic-in-miniature >The End of the Tour, that they're wrong. There's something squishy and off-putting about the film just in relationship to itself, and the way it treats its version of Wallace (Jason Segel) as a soul too gentle for this cynical, cold world - literally, the film is set in the Midwestern winter - while constantly foreshadowing his suicide 12 years later. There's a distinct, appalling thread of "come laugh at the homey wisdom of Your Literary Idol®, and then cry to remember that he's dead" that runs through the whole thing.

And yet I find myself not only not-hating the film, but even admiring bits and pieces of it, though probably not the bits that the filmmakers wanted. Frankly, I found Segel's Wallace to be all mimicry (good mimicry) with limited willingness to let us inside - and this is, to be fair, much more a function of Donald Margulies's script, which presents the author as an enigma and a concept in the first hour, than it's a sign of Segel's limits as an actor - with not nearly enough thought behind his eyes. The movie depicts Wallace, but it's terrified as hell at grappling with him.

Instead, the real protagonist and by far the deeper, more thoughtfully played character, is minor novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), assigned by Rolling Stone to interview Wallace near the end of the promotional tour for the author's 1996 novel Infinite Jest. Eisenberg performance isn't as "revelatory" as Segel's, I guess - the doubt-ridden, antagonistic urban Jewish figure he plays here is securely in his wheelhouse - but it's far more expansive and tricky, full of threads that aren't quite in the script, allowing his version of Lipsky (whose story was never finished and ultimately turned into the 2010 book, Although of Course You End Up Meeting Yourself, that this film is adapted from) to be sufficiently resentful under the starry-eyed nervousness and awe that the film's lurch towards an interpersonal conflict as it goes along feels like a natural outgrowth rather than an imposition. It ends being, Amadeus-style, better as the story of an average man admiring and fearing a genius, than as the story of that genius himself, and it's easily Eisenberg's best work since The Social Network.

Stylistically, it's wholly undistinguished American indie filmmaking of a sort that has been unchanged in all particulars since sometime in the 1990s; director James Ponsoldt is clearly more interested in presenting his characters than in doing anything to frame them cinematically. A literary approach certainly fits the material, but the lack of aesthetic challenge is exactly the problem: all the film wants to do is gawk at Wallace/Segel, not engage with him, and the result is often more trivial than penetrating.