To say that “When You Finish Saving The World” (A24), Jesse Eisenberg’s debut as a writer/director, is exactly the kind of movie one might expect from the Oscar-nominated actor is neither a compliment nor an insult.
It’s just a true statement. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the actor, with his distinctive style of speaking, saying the lines as he was writing them.
The Indiana-based Katz family – mother Evelyn (a frumpy Julianne Moore), father Roger (Jay O. Sanders), and teenaged son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) – is more than a little dysfunctional. Dinnertime conversation is often stilted. They treat each other more like roommates than relatives. Evelyn, in particular, is distant, more concerned with her job running a shelter for women seeking refuge from domestic abuse, than with her son and husband. She’s the kind of mother who, when Ziggy asks for a ride to school, leaves without him when he isn’t by her side in the “five seconds” he promised.
Ziggy is pretty much left to fend for himself. A blossoming singer/songwriter who plays “classic folk rock with alternative influences” songs on guitar and keyboards, Ziggy has amassed several thousand followers on a music-sharing site where he regularly live streams his songs. He gets the respect and affection from strangers that he lacks at home. His school life isn’t much better. Socially awkward, especially around Lila (Alisha Boe), on whom he has a crush, Ziggy flounders.
Adding insult to injury, the equally socially inept Evelyn, connects with Kyle (Billy Bryk), who is living at the shelter with his mother Angie (Eleonore Hendricks), in ways she never did with Ziggy. Evelyn lavishes him with maternal attention, giving him gifts and involving herself with his future plans in ways that border on inappropriate. Meanwhile, at home, Roger begins to feel as neglected as Ziggy.
In the hands of a less accomplished actor, the uncomfortable scenes with Moore, would have been even more squirm-worthy than they already are. The concluding reunion scene, tries to strike a balance between natural and forced, although it leans more towards the latter. The young actors, including Wolfhard, Boe, and Bryk, also hold their own throughout the film.
Opening Jan. 20 at Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood and O Cinema on South Beach.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of eight books including the poetry chapbook Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.