Celebrated fast-talking actor Jesse Eisenberg enters a new career era with When You Finish Saving the World, an adaptation of his 2020 audio drama for Audible wherein disparate generational perspectives inform challenges across a wide spectrum of life’s hurdles.
Eisenberg penned and directed the film version of his story, trading out his own vocal performance from the Audible release—and that of Booksmart actress Kaitlyn Dever—for a more grounded take on the mother/son quagmire. Julianne Moore plays the humorless mother Evelyn; Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard tackles son Ziggy, a powder keg of growing pains, online validation and run-of-the-mill teen bullshit.
In World, Wolfhard’s Ziggy finds support and acknowledgement when livestreaming folk-rock songs to a listener base of 20,000—a number he casually drops into conversation far too often. Aurally, the songs sound like old Beck—super-early, One Foot in the Grave Beck. Lyrically, they’re a painfully spot-on glimpse at teenage emotions that strike a believable balance between silly little nothings and moments of genuine insight and talent.
Ziggy’s parents just don’t understand, though, and while his explosive reactions to his mother and father (Jay O. Sanders) seem over the top, Eisenberg’s script shows deft understanding of just how hard we feel when we’re young.
Moore’s Evelyn is the founder of an abused women’s shelter, and though she freely shows support for her patients, she struggles to connect with her own son. Here, World is at its best with a character steeped in relatable flaws who thinks she’s helping but kind of just goes on hurting. Moore expertly phases from work mom to home mom, and we might hate her for the glib manner in which she questions Ziggy’s motivations if we didn’t remember how tired we can be at the end of the day—or just how tough teens can be. Wolfhard mostly keeps up with her, too, and proves to be a capable performer. It is doubtful, however, this will be remembered as his best work.
When Evelyn forms a bond with a new patient’s son, things get tricky. Seeing in him the things she most wants in a son, her misguided jabs at a motherhood redo become ever more frantic. Ziggy, meanwhile, tries to infiltrate a friend group of woke-lite kids at his school, all the while misunderstanding why his passions don’t carry weight similar to his classmate’s pseudo-politicking. Ultimately, though, his earnestness saves him. Moore’s Evelyn comes to understand this, just as Ziggy comes to understand how his mother’s efforts, though not flashy, are wildly impressive. Gee, it’s almost like everyone has their own story or something.
+Relatable and funny
-Simple to a fault at times
When You Finish Saving the World
Directed by Eisenberg
With Moore and Wolfhard
Center for Contemporary Arts, Violet Crown, R, 88 min.