When it comes to When You Finish Saving The World, not even two committed performances can save this flawed film at Sundance.
Written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg, it tells the story of a mother and son who are disconnected from each other but seek to fill that void by forming relationships with substitutes. Evelyn desperately tries to parent an unassuming teenager at her shelter, while Ziggy fumbles through his pursuit of a brilliant young woman at school.
Ziggy’s journey is partly based on Eisenberg’s own life. In particular when he pretended to be more interested in humanitarian issues than he was to impress a girl. After all, who hasn’t told a little white lie here and there to their potential crush? Desperate to make a good impression, thwarted by his continual references to his 20,000 social media followers, his method of wooing her revolves around writing the “political song that could save the world”.
Meanwhile Evelyn works in a shelter and finds a project in the son of one of the women who stays there. He provides an outlet for her doting, fussing and ambitions.
Distributed by A24, it doesn’t “feel” like one of their films. It is a run-of-the-mill quirky indie comedy-drama. Lacking in those “A24 vibes”. Although it does continue the tradition from Hereditary of having a dining table scene where mother and son have a huge disagreement.
The fundamental issue with the film is that the characters are so narcissistic, blindingly unaware of their own self-obsession and completely unappealing. As evidenced in the dinner scene and others with their total disregard for their husband/father. Not only have the two built up a wall between them, the barrier is also impenetrable to the audience. It is impossible to empathise with their plight or wish for a positive outcome to their situation.
It is hard to put the blame on the actors here. Both are 100% committed to their characters flaws and imperfections and that boils down to the writing and direction.
Eisenberg, both on and off-screen, has a distinctive style in his performances, speech patterns and interactions with others. Unlike some writer-directors, that rhythm and delivery is not translated from page to screen. Thus he is unable to put his own unique stamp on proceedings.
Ziggy may have found his voice through his music and social media platform, however Eisenberg hasn’t quite found his yet. When You Finish Saving The World is certainly not the finished article.
When You Finish Saving The World screens at the Sundance Film Festival and will be released in 2022 by A24
Director: Jesse Eisenberg
Stars: Finn Wolfhard, Julianne Moore, Alisha Boe
Runtime: 88 minutes