Review: Can’t save Jesse Eisenberg “When You Finish Saving the World”

Review: Can’t save Jesse Eisenberg “When You Finish Saving the World”

Seventeen years after Jesse Eisenberg played the confused teenager of a deluded parent in a fragile family for Noah Baumbach in The Squid and the Whale, Jesse Eisenberg has created his own comically poignant version of this neurotic ecosystem with his debut as a writer and director. “When you’re done saving the world.”

Adapting a scenario from a podcast drama of the same name he wrote for Audible that was running during the pandemic, Eisenberg takes us into the sardonic, scathing relationship between an activist mother (Julianne Moore) and her personally ambitious son (Finn Wolfhard ). Neither of them can hide their disappointment when their paths cross under the same roof. (Rounding out this tense home is Jay O. Sanders as the comrade-in-arms who eventually calls his roommates “a bunch of narcissists” in a moment of understandable frustration.)

Wolfhard’s lanky high school student, Ziggy, is laser-focused on his internet fame as a singer-songwriter of plaintive, youthful folk-rock songs that he livestreams from his bedroom to adoring fans. Of course, the irony befitting his social media-driven existence is that for someone with 20,000 followers from around the world — information he’s quick to relay to everyone he meets — local popularity doesn’t exist. That’s probably because Ziggy’s selfish neediness is just as noticeable in everyday life as the guitar case he always has with him.

His mother, Evelyn (Moore), meanwhile, patiently devotes her days to running a domestic violence shelter she founded, but bears a demure, cheerless office demeanor that prompts one staffer to respond to her forced smile smalltalk with a nervous, “Are you fire me?” Evelyn’s own connected but lonely dilemma — she doesn’t realize her son is struggling with this too — is that despite everything she does for the women in her care, Ziggy is the life she isn’t can shake off failed project. How did the son she took to marches and teach protest songs become a shallow busker on a website?

Eisenberg’s comic sensibility — not very far from Baumbach’s, which itself owed something to Woody Allen — is to give Ziggy and Evelyn parallel obsessions of an amusing Cringeworth that reflect how blind they are to needing each other. Ziggy is itching to impress a poetry-writing, fervently intelligent social justice classmate (Alisha Boe), an Oedipal-bordering crush project that requires an interest in politics that he’d rather clip to exploit than as a hole in to look at his learning . And when Evelyn meets Kyle (Billy Bryk), the pensive, working-class teenage son of one of the shelter’s newest residents, an opportunity bubbles to the surface for a surrogate mother whose intrusiveness she is helpless to suppress.

However, while these scenarios play out in the cool autumn grain of Benjamin Loeb’s 16mm cinematography and over an Emile Mosseri score that fills the non-diegetic gaps between Ziggy’s songs and Evelyn’s soothing classic with gasping, electronic-sounding motifs, the twitchy competes Comic clumsy with the emotional framework. It’s a problem that Eisenberg will inevitably get better at writing and directing films with these kinds of thematically complicated characters. But for now it feels like a story caught between the punishing bite of social satire and a sensitive indie.

The actors help up to a point. Wolfhard, who manages a nice change of pace from his Stranger Things duties, and the reliably intense Moore are entertainingly austere when it comes to the squirming comedy – with Wolfhard’s timing at moments that echoes sharply his writer-director’s more memorable portraits remind. minded arrogance. However, neither he nor Moore gets much opportunity to sow the underground stuff that’s ultimately required to sell Eisenberg’s epiphany circuit in the end. A micro-case study of some acutely flawed 21st-century aspirants, When You Finish Saving the World has its well-shot moments, but when it’s meant to be delightfully chaotic about families and human interactions, it remains resolutely in lab mode.

“When You’re Done Saving the World”

Rated: R, for language

Duration: 1 hour, 28 minutes

To play: Begins January 20th at Alamo Drafthouse, Downtown Los Angeles

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