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January 20, 2023 / Sphere Films Canada

Starring: Julianne Moore, Finn Wolfhard, Alisha Boe, Jay O. Sanders, Billy Bryk

Directed By: Jesse Eisenberg

Evelyn (Julianne Moore) has devoted herself to helping people in hard times, but she struggles to connect with her son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard), an aspiring internet star oblivious to the problems of the world.

As Evelyn attempts to become a parent figure to an unassuming teenager she meets at her shelter, and Ziggy fumbles through his pursuit of a brilliant and politically conscious young woman at his high school, this emotional comedy reveals a funny and sharply perceptive portrait of a mother and son who may seem at odds but who are more alike than either would care to admit.

Written By Darren

Rating 2.5 out of 5

When You Finish Saving the World may have Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard in the two lead roles who give good performances, but an underdeveloped screenplay focusing on truly unlikable characters makes Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut an unrewarding watch.

Many actors have made the jump from in front of the camera to behind the camera, and it makes sense. They spend their days on set and are bound to get a good understanding of how to direct a film. We have seen many beloved actors become directors including Ben Affleck, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Bradley Cooper and Greta Gerwig. Following in their footsteps is Jesse Eisenberg, and while his attempt is admirable, he cannot find the right tone to allow his efforts to succeed.

The film revolves around a mother and son, who are having friction in their relationship, which forces them to seek out replacements for each other. This leads Evelyn to find another young man to guide and nurture in life, and Ziggy to pursue a sophisticated young girl at school to allow him to prove he is everything his mother thinks he is not.

The story acts as a character study and coming of age story simultaneously, but it is hard to care for either of the two main characters as they are truly unlikable individuals. Evelyn forces herself on a young vulnerable man, attempting to replace his mother and turn him into a younger version of himself, whereas Ziggy is pretending to be the exact opposite of himself to win a girl just to prove a point to his mother. The damage the two of them leave in their wake is hard to watch, and by the time there is any recognition as to what they’ve done or who they’ve become, the film merely ends, allowing no time for any true developments in the characters to happen.

Writing and directing is no easy task, and while Eisenberg has a story to tell in this film, he tries to emulate the works of Noah Baumbach but fails to find the right light to portray this story in. Unfortunately, this ultimately causes the film to fail as it cannot find the right light to tell this story in. Furthermore, Eisenberg’s understanding of Gen Z is misguided at times, portraying more of a stereotype about them rather than really capturing their generation.

Luckily, the film has Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard in the lead roles. At this point in her career, we all know never to underestimate Moore, and as always she is sublime. As Evelyn, Moore captures every quirk of her character and humanizes her in a way where you can see her good intentions get lost in her obsessive personality. There is no doubt in my mind that without Moore, the film would fail as she lights up the screen every second she is in front of the camera. As her son Ziggy, Wolfhard is good, capturing the teenage angst that drives Ziggy and forces him away from his mother. For the most part, Wolfhard is very similar to his previous performances, but he truly excels and breaks free from those roles he has been typecast in during the film’s final five minutes where he truly begins to develop his character.

While the film overall just did not work for me, you can see glimpses of Eisenberg’s talents as a director, mainly in the performances he evoked from Moore and Wolfhard. They are great performances that make the film, proving that Eisenberg can direct, but he just needed a stronger screenplay to work with. There is no denying the powerhouse performance from Julianne Moore single handedly saves the film from being a true misfire, but Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut When You Finish Saving the World does not reach the heights he aims for because of characters that will annoy you and the story not finding the tone it needs to make this an endearing character piece relatable.

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