“When You Finish Saving the World” is the directorial debut of actor Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”). While the characters are suffering and somewhat insufferable, the film is compact and well handled.
Evelyn (Julianne Moore) is the head of a woman’s shelter. Her face is a skull, a rictus of anxiety with bulging eyes. Evelyn is driven by her occupation. Nothing else matters.
Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) is Evelyn’s self-absorbed son. He is obsessed with music, YouTube and making money online.
Ziggy and Evelyn go about their routines hardly interacting and when they do, it is only a few bare exchanges with less charm than Siri on your iPhone.
Mom answers Ziggy as if he is an object only to be fed. When Ziggy answers his mom, he says he’s successful online and that he’ll be rich and she’ll be poor. He swears at his mom at the drop of a hat. During dinner, Ziggy tells his mom that he will change the world with his online followers. Evelyn viciously belittles her son with the intensity of “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Ziggy consoles himself with his life online and his dreams of being romantic with the idealistic Lila (Alisha Boe). He manages to painfully ingratiate himself to Lila enough to have her handwritten poem.
Meanwhile Evelyn has a crush on young 18-year-old, Kyle (Billy Bryk), the son of a client.
Ziggy does have a dad named Roger (Jay O. Sanders), but he is spacey and out of touch.
Evelyn is a terribly inconsiderate mom with a harsh stubbornness that borders on the supernatural and Ziggy does nothing to help matters.
No one is very likable in this film, yet it is an exceedingly accurate portrait of adolescent angst. Though it makes for arduous viewing Wolfhard and Moore are 100% spot on in their roles.
Both of these solid actors share a final scene of poignance that takes off the film’s grim edge. When Ziggy goes to see his mom’s work site, there is mystery and wonder in his expression and it is the best of the film as is Evelyn’s reaction to Ziggy’s face on video from ten years past.
If one sticks with it, you will be rewarded with some openness and poignant speculation, but a sleepover with Evelyn, Ziggy and Roger almost creates an indie version of a Macbeth dinner that few will digest with ease.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org