When You Finish Saving the World

Directed by: Jesse Eisenberg
Distributed by: A24

Written by Alexander Reams

70/100

Jesse Eisenberg has had a productive pandemic, in August of 2020 he released his Audible original audio production “When You Finish Saving the World,” starring the voice talents of Eisenberg as Nathan Katz, Finn Wolfhard as Ziggy Katz, and Kaitlyn Dever as Rachel Katz. The original piece is presented in a non-linear format and focuses on Rachel before her marriage to Nathan, Nathan learning to father a newborn child, and Ziggy as a teenager trying to figure out his place in the world. Soon after its release A24 signed on to produce, and Eisenberg would write and direct, making it his debut, Wolfhard was the only one from the original voice cast to remain in the film as Ziggy, while Julianne Moore and Jay O. Sanders play his parents Evelyn and Roger. While the changes were fairly large compared to the source material, I found Eisenberg’s vintage approach to framing and music to be endearing enough to help with the narrative adjustment. 

Wolfhard’s career continues to surprise as he moves from genre to genre, from “It Chapter One & Two” to “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” Wolfhard brings range to franchise pictures, and working in a smaller film allows him to be exaggerated while still maintaining a level of reality. Shortly after the opening credits, we see Ziggy live streaming, and when his mother opens the door it’s his reaction that makes the scene just cringy enough to make teenagers uncomfortable while still being hilarious to see his complaints fall on the deaf ears of his mother who doesn’t fully understand. It’s a role Moore plays well, who still cares for her son while not understanding his lack of care towards the shelter she runs. To her its the reason to get out of bed in the morning but to Ziggy, it’s the object that keeps his mother away from him, driving a wedge that inadvertently affects Roger the most, their dual neglect of him is Eisenberg pulling on the heartstrings in brutal fashion, but without being cloying. 

Admittedly, “When You Finish Saving the World” relies on the trope of “stuck-up parents with a rebellious teen” for a large portion of the film before everything comes to a head. Still, it is the performances that Eisenberg gets out of his cast, including supporting players Alisha Boe as Ziggy’s love interest Lila and Billy Bryk as Ziggy’s best friend Kyle. Their dynamics are as awkward as one could expect in a film about high schoolers in 2022, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome, it’s a credit to Eisenberg as a writer and director, and is another promising voice in American independent cinema.

“When You Finish Saving the World” Trailer

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