Film Review: When You Finish Saving The World | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, May 25th, 2022  

When You Finish Saving The World

Studio: A24
Director: Jesse Eisenberg

Jan 27, 2022 Web Exclusive
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Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut, When You Finish Saving The World, is a film that is constantly searching for a clear message but, in the end, has very little to say. While the film attempts to ruminate on a variety of complex themes–including mother-son relationships, coming-of-age and attempting to fit in–the film is held back by shoddy screenwriting and generally uneven performances.

The film’s central storyline focuses on the relationship between Evelyn (Julianne Moore), an employee at a domestic violence shelter, and her son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard), a semi-famous singer/songwriter, similar to the kind you would find on TikTok, who cares only about his 20,000 followers. The two could not be more different, and every time they interact–usually, at the dinner table–the two either quickly burst into fight or sit in uncomfortable, awkward silence.

In order to sell its premise, the film is divided into two plot lines that intersect one another throughout the entire film. The first follows Evelyn as she develops a friendship with a bright teenager at the shelter, trying to craft a future that she thinks is fit for him. The second follows Ziggy as he constantly tries to impress a girl that he likes at school, becoming more politically active in his attempt to do so.

By juxtaposing these two situations with one another, the film attempts to showcase the differences between the two characters’ morals while also spotlighting their similar narcissistic qualities. This storytelling decision makes sense, especially in the context of communicating the film’s many themes. Unfortunately, the two plot lines are so tonally distinct that they never manage to come together in a satisfying or thought-provoking way. Instead, the film mostly feels directionless, moving back and forth between two stories that barely have anything tangible to take away on their own, let alone together. When the film finally manages to find its sense of purpose, it’s too late, wrapping up too quickly and, in the process, sacrificing what could have been a much better and more interesting story to tell.

Many of these storytelling issues are attributable to the film’s unbalanced script. Both of the film’s main characters are written in an overly cartoonish, superficial way in order to emphasize their rampant narcissism. While this approach does succeed in quickly making their personalities apparent, it also makes the film insufferable to sit through. More often than not, neither the characters’ actions nor their lines of dialogue feel remotely believable, way too overtly obnoxious to be taken seriously. Moreover, while the script does hint at many different themes, most notably regarding familial relationships, it never probes deep enough into its characters, or their connection, to bring these ideas to the surface.

The film also suffers from uncertain performances. In the film’s principal roles, Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard do put a sincere effort into their performances, but are unable to sell their characters in an engaging way. Their interactions with one another are completely overacted, making each situation seem even more forced and manufactured as a result. Overall, the two appear to be on completely different wavelengths, delivering some compelling individual moments but lacking the chemistry to build on each other’s work. (festival.sundance.org)

Author rating: 4/10

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