Seventeen years after playing Noah Baumbach’s mixed-race teenager with a parent trapped in a fragile family in “The Squid and the Whale,” Jesse Eisenberg has created his own comic version of this neurotic ecosystem with his writer-director debut. , “When you finish saving the Earth.”
Adapting a story from a podcast drama of the same name he wrote for Audible, set during the pandemic, Eisenberg takes us inside the sardonic, snappy relationship between an activist mother (Julianne Moore) and her personally ambitious son (Finn Wolfhard). , neither of them can hide their disappointment in the other when they cross paths under the same roof. (Jay O. Sanders is the father who, at one point, calls his housemates in a moment of understandable frustration, “a couple of narcissists.”)
Lanky Wolfhard high school student Ziggy is focused on his internet fame as a singer-songwriter of clean, clean-cut teenage rock tunes that he broadcasts from his bedroom to his fans. The irony, of course, of his social media-based life is that for someone with 20,000 followers from all over the world – information he is quick to drop on anyone he meets – local popularity is still lacking there. That’s probably because Ziggy’s need for self-absorption in everyday life is as prominent as the guitar case always is.
Meanwhile, his mother Evelyn (Moore) patiently spends her days running the domestic violence shelter she founded, but has a brittle, joyless office demeanor that leads one staff member to respond to her small talk with a nervous smile, “Are you? turn me off?” Evelyn’s own connected-but-lonely dilemma — she doesn’t have to realize that her son is dealing with this too — is that everything she does for the women is rewarded In her care, Ziggy is the life she can’t shake a feeling of a failed project. How did her son who she took to marches and taught protest songs become a shallow website busker?
Eisenberg’s comic sensibility – not far removed from Baumbach, who himself owed something to Woody Allen – is to give Ziggy and Evelyn parallel obsessions of cringe that show how blind they are to each other. Ziggy has to impress a fellow poetry writer, brilliantly intelligent and social justice warrior (Alisha Boe), a brutal Oedipal-adjacent project that requires an interest in politics that would rather take a shortcut than think of it as a hole in his part of learning. . And when Evelyn meets Kyle (Billy Bryk), the brainy, classy teenager and one of the shelter’s newest residents, a surrogate motherhood opportunity surfaces that she’s helpless to reach out to.
As these situations play out, however, in the magnificent autumnal grain of Benjamin Loeb’s 16mm cinematography and over Emile Mosseri’s score that fills the non-diegetic holes between Ziggy’s songs and Evelyn’s soothing classical with electro-magnetic acoustic motifs, the Exciting comedy in exciting competition. with the emotional framework. It’s a problem that Eisenberg will no doubt get better at the more he writes and directs movies with these kinds of thematically complex characters. But right now it feels like a story caught between the punishing grip of social satire and sensitive indie.
The actors help, to a point. Wolfhard, doing very well in his “Stranger Things” duties, and Moore, who is reliably tough, are very entertaining when it comes to the sharpest humor – and Wolfhard’s timeliness is acutely reminiscent of the most vivid portraits. remarkable by its writer-director of narrow circumstances. arrogance of mind. Neither he nor Moore, however, are given much opportunity to seed the ground-breaking stuff ultimately needed to sell Eisenberg’s epic shift at the end. As a micro-case study of the 21st century’s acutely flawed endeavor, “When You End Up Saving the World” has its moments of good turns, but when you wish it was more broken about families and human interactions, it remains firmly in lab mode.
‘When you finish saving the Earth’
Rated: R, for language
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Starts January 20, Alamo Drafthouse, Downtown Los Angeles