Written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg, When You Finish Saving The World strives to be a film about ideals at odds with reality and the disconnection of people with each other. The end result is certainly mixed, not without its best efforts shining through.
The fact that this is Eisenberg’s directorial and writing debut is surprising. Based off an audiobook he wrote and was released on Audible in 2020. Together with cinematographer Benjamin Loeb he has created this world that feels retro and suffocating, often mirroring the characters emotional state with long hallways and shadowy dinner scenes. Eisenberg nails the emotional tone, even if his characters are at odds with it.
Following a mother and son who are disconnected with each other and laser focused on their own goals, it’s hard at times to figure out what else Eisenberg is trying to say other than these people are terrible. The two are often at odds and yelling at each other. With an 88 minute runtime, we are thankfully only subjected to these people for a brief time.
Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) is concerned only with live streaming his music for his fans across the globe and how to get more liked and more money, so much so that there’s almost a state of arrested development. He is in love with a girl at school, Lila (Alisha Boy), who is into politics and writes poems about colonialism, he frequently breaks into conversations with her to talk about how many followers he has in some of the most cringe inducing scenes. These are the scenes when Eisenberg’s writing really comes through, the notes of neurotic and nebbish without going overboard.
Ziggy’s mother, Evelyn (Julianne Moore) is wrapped up entirely in her work at a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, while the heart of what she is doing is great, her interactions with those around her are tense and her droning conversations reveal her liberal, upper class mentality, often talking down to people. While the two of them aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong per se, their personalities and actions are hard to digest. Evelyn seeks to fulfill her role as a mother and unfortunately Kyle (Billy Bryk), a young man who has come to the shelter with is mother gets the brunt of her well intentioned, but misdirected and smothering motherly love. Between Ziggy’s quest for attention from Lila and Evelyns pursuit of Kyle, it is hard to nail down what story is being presented, neither of them have much success, in fact its quite the opposite, and their would be reconciliation is brief if unconvincing.
Seeing Jay O. Sanders as the father and husband to these two narcissistic people is welcome relief and a knowing wink that he is aware these people are behaving terribly. The reprieve is brief, but without it, the satire and comedic length these two go to satisfy their ego’s would be nearly unwatchable.
The satire is played very broad and dry, speaking to Eisenberg’s sensibilities, but I’m afraid this might be too big of a disconnect with audiences. The brief runtime and craft behind the camera are encouraging to see, Eisenberg will no doubt continue to write and direct, this is a great launch pad.
2.5 out of 5