Sundance Film Festival: ‘When You Finish Saving The World’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut, When You Finish Saving The World, he explores the idea of what it truly means to help others. As we know, there are many different ways to help others, but what people fail to realize is the intention the olive branch stems from. Is there genuine compassion to help others, or is there an ulterior motive for personal gain? In this film, we meet Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) who performs original folk-rock songs for an adoring online fan base. This concept completely baffles his uptight mother, Evelyn (Julianne Moore), who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. We see a very strained relationship between mother and son because they are actually very similar.

While Ziggy is busy trying to impress his socially engaged classmate Lila (Alisha Boe), by making more politically driven music, Evelyn meets Angie (Eleonore Hendricks) and her teen son, Kyle (Billy Bryk), when they seek refuge at her facility. She notices that Kyle needs the proper guidance to move away from his current working-class lifestyle and decides to take him under her wing. The dynamic between Ziggy and Evelyn is interesting because they both want to help others through their own narcissistic lens but don’t bother to confide in each other. They both look elsewhere to fill the void that the other created inside them. Both characters are difficult to connect with because of how self-absorbed they are and think their service is a gift.

One thing that can be said about this film is that Jesse Eisenberg’s voice was evident throughout its entirety. For years we have admired Eisenberg’s ability to deliver lines so sharp and eloquently. Eisenberg’s entire personality and his intellectual process seep through the dialogue, making Evelyn and Ziggy, two halves of a whole. Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard both deliver great performances but unfortunately the film itself was lacking an emotional connection. There are strong moments between the two of them; one actual conversation that was the turning point of the film and the other a full-out argument that felt extremely authentic.

When You Finish Saving The World is a strong directorial debut from Jesse Eisenberg because of how distinct his voice is. Forget about the story and the characters themselves, this felt authentically Eisenberg and that is definitely a sign of a director with a strong sense of who he is. Even if this film isn’t your cup of tea, Eisenberg made something completely in his voice and his style and that is the most interesting aspect of this movie. This film explores the feeling of being incomplete and attempting to help others in order to be satisfied. The truth is, you can never help enough people, to fill that empty void inside of you. Instead, you have to work through that emptiness to make yourself whole again.

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