Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut, When You Finish Saving the World, truly embodies his misanthropic identity, resulting in a mixed bag of humor and sustained bouts of uncomfortableness.
Adapted from his award-winning 2020 audible series, the film centers on the socially awkward head of a battered women’s shelter, Evelyn (Julianne Moore), and her equally awkward but scantily famous (he has 20,000 followers he’s eager to tell you about) musician son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard). They find themselves muddling through newly found “friendships” while their relationship is disconnected like “two high-speed trains on parallel tracks,” as Ziggy sings in the film.
These two are written in a whip-smart deadpan humorous way that’s force-fed into a grounded setting of people who weren’t let in on the joke, making the comedic beats come across as cold interactions. Moore brings a badly needed sympathetic tone, though it’s often clouded by her character’s questionable behavior. Wolfhard adequately fills his familial role as the attitudinal teenager while getting a few moments to shine when he displays his musical proficiency in the film’s most authentically touching moments.
Eisenberg proves he has that devil-may-care cynical-type humor sorely missed in today’s movies, but he’ll need more than that before creating his magnum opus.
SEE IT: When You Finish Saving the World, rated R, played at the Laurelhurst Theater and the Living Room theaters.