Arts & Entertainment

‘When You Finish Saving the World’ has the makings of an indie classic

This coming of age comedy-drama boasts unique performances and a positive debut for director Jesse Eisenberg.

Photo by A24 | “When You Finish Saving the World” poster

“When You Finish Saving the World” is written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg, who is best known for acting performances such as his Oscar-nominated starring role in “The Social Network,” (2010) and his comedic role as Columbus in the popular comedy-horror flick “Zombieland” (2009). 

“When You Finish Saving the World” addresses the complications of one’s ideals vs. who they really are, and how it affects their relationships. Ziggy Katz, a socially awkward teen who is hugely popular on a streaming website for his music, has a strained relationship with his mother Evelyn. She does not understand his passions and instead favors practical work and social justice above art. The film stars Finn Wolfhard as Ziggy and Julianne Moore as Evelyn, who play off each other flawlessly. While Ziggy attempts to forge connections with his classmate who is a political activist, his mother forms a parental relationship with another teen boy who stays at a shelter she works at. 

This is Eisenberg’s feature film directorial debut, and is a promising one, adapted from his audio drama of the same name. The script is clever and humorous, and it is shot in a stylistic but simple way, highlighting a muted autumn-toned color palette and using lingering takes. The movie is reminiscent of other quirky films, similar to director Noah Baumbach’s work, particularly “The Squid and the Whale” (2005), which Eisenberg starred in. 

The humor is accompanied by unappealing characters, and comparable awkward situations, which is not a bad thing, nor is it surprising given the nature of characters Eisenberg has played in the past. It has a classic off-beat alternative vibe, similar to other coming-of-age films like “Ladybird” (2017). 

The film’s style is more stiff and heightened rather than realistic (a staple for the production company A24), and the acting follows this appropriately; Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard put in praise-worthy performances. Moore, with a cold, strange, and pretentious style and Wolfhard as an awkward, egotistical character trying to navigate who he wants to be – pulling off a certain lack of depth the character required; both equally unlikable. 

Their differing energies provide a believable mother-son dynamic and offer tension and humor. Ziggy’s obsession with his music and his need for internet clout adds to his problems with faking political interest, and only distances himself further from his mother. Ziggy’s father, portrayed by Jay O. Sanders, has a smaller role in the film, but offered a good deal of comedic moments with his awkward dialogue and frustrations towards his family. 

The characterizations of each person were supported by a unique and easy score which was likely played on a keyboard, and felt stripped back and simple. This was used as an accent for the music used within the scenes. Because Wolfhard’s character is a musician, much of the film’s music are songs he sings within the story. It was smart to utilize Wolfhard for this, as he is known outside of his acting career as an indie musician. 

The film is purposefully awkward and cringe for most of its scenes, but because it deals with a feeling of disconnect and attempts to understand each other, the awkward feeling is on theme. It is a good watch for anyone who enjoys these types of films, but it may not be for the average movie goer.

“When You Finish Saving the World” is currently in theaters. 

Star Rating: 4/5