Jesse Eisenberg’s Directorial Debut Features a Warm, Melancholic Look at a Mother and Son Relationship
It’s kind of funny; as I write this review, I find myself falling more and more in love with this film. Upon walking out of the theater, I kind of had this “meh” attitude where I sort of shrugged my shoulders and thought “That wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t great.” It’s been a few days since and I haven’t stopped thinking about the directorial debut of Jesse Eisenberg and how wonderful his film was.
While the film is not perfect, it has so much to love, while giving so little. The short runtime, minimal cast members and set locations, and very indie-like score really lend to a narrative that focuses purely on human connections. When You Finish Saving the World follows mother and son, Evelyn (Julianne Moore) and Ziggy Katz (Finn Wolfhard), as they slowly come to understand each other. Unrevolutionary idea, sure. But Eisenberg uses these two flawed characters to share with the audience this idea that even though these two individuals are so lost in their own worlds, they can still find a way to meet eye to eye.
Simple Plot, Complex Emotions
Ziggy is somewhat of a microcelebrity, boasting an impressive 20,000 listeners from all over the world on his Hi-Hat account. His classical folk rock love songs with alternative influences manages to get Ziggy a good amount of money, and not to mention a large ego. Evelyn is the founder of Spruce Haven, a shelter for woman and children in need. The services she provides for the community have saved tons of women, which also gives Evelyn a bit of an ego. What makes the relationship between this mother and son so engaging is that due to their high statuses in their respective environments, it becomes difficult for them to connect when they try to meet in the middle.
Their inability to connect with others drives the plot forward when Ziggy tries to get his crush to notice him while Evelyn attempts to take a young boy at her shelter under her wing and mentor him. The two must realize that in order to make these connections with others they need to come off their high horse. In order to connect with each other they must take themselves out of their comfort zones.
Pieces of Gold
Ziggy Katz spends a lot of the film writing and performing new music for his followers online. One of the songs that is featured prominently in the movie is titled Pieces of Gold. What I love about this song is how connected to the film’s main idea it is. It perfectly captures the overall aesthetic that Eisenberg has crafted, but it also has some wonderful symbolism in the lyrics. I’ve been listening to Ziggy’s music while writing this review and there are lyrics that stand out to me: “Two high speed cars on parallel streets, never going to crash, never gonna meet.” Throughout the film, we see Ziggy and Evelyn barreling down the road of life, side by side. As they speed down this road, there’s never going to be this chance for them to slow down and meet eye to eye; there’s no intersection.
That is, until they both wipe out so spectacularly in their own lives that they come face to face with each other, and see that there’s a lot more in common between them they initially thought. There’s this moment of understanding between Ziggy and Evelyn where they finally meet in this abrupt moment, similar to two cars crashing head on. For a film to have these moving pieces come together in such a satisfying way, you can’t help but have a smile on your face when the credits begin to roll.
I’m a huge fan of Jesse Eisenberg and everything he does so you know I was seated for his first directorial gig. The fact the movie was actually shot on film, the minimal amount of cast and locations that force the narrative to do the legwork, the original music, it all comes together so wonderfully. This is definitely a movie I will revisit from time to time.
However, early on in the film, the pacing is a bit off which I feel may be attributed to the clunkiness of the dialogue. While the dialogue is supposed to be a drastic caricature of these two clueless characters, Evelyn and Ziggy come off as robots with their hyper literal dialogue and bizarre interactions. There is a purpose to these choices, but it doesn’t make it any less jarring for the audiences at the beginning. Once the film gets moving and you learn to embrace the rigidness of Evelyn and Ziggy, you’re in for a treat.
When You Finish Saving The World will be in theaters on January 20, 2023 courtesy of A24.
While the writing feels clunky at times, and the film takes a bit to find it's footing, Jesse Eisenberg delivers a warm, melancholic coming-of-age story for the modern age. The focused insight on the flawed mother and son relationship captures a sense of humanness that audiences can really connect with.
Even when I was just a young kid I had always been fascinated in film and the work that goes into them. I love animation, blockbuster hits, indie films and everything in between. Some day I’ll have the privilege of being apart of the filmmaking process.