Jesse Eisenberg is most notably known for his credits in ZombielandThe Social Network, and even Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, as his roles became more and more formulaic due to his repetitively quirky type-casted characters; the overall divisive public opinion also grew regarding his acting ability. On the flip-side, When You Finish Saving the World is one of those festival submissions that generates plenty of curious buzz due to the directorial debut of a famous actor. Eisenberg adapts his own audio drama to the big screen, ironically receiving all-over-the-place response from festival-goers. Unfortunately, the film falls for a handful of negative conventions, mainly due to the despicable protagonists.

Julianne Moore portrays Evelyn, as Finn Wolfhard interprets her son Ziggy. In the confines of the film, the two insufferable, self-centered, characters spend the entire runtime showing how hypocritical they are through vastly different acts. The actors are terrific — making the viewers utterly hate their characters, both as individuals and as a mother-son duo. Evidently, this is Eisenberg’s distinctly honest vision of the 21st century; holding underlying messages concerning parenthood, adolescence, education, politics, environment, and much more.

The issue with the film itself can be described as a double-edged sword. The essence of the story is transmitted successfully, but through a more frustrating perspective. In order to accomplish the annoying end goal, the debutant director makes the viewers endure ninety minutes with the core protagonists without seeing them complete a compelling arc. By the end of the movie, both characters seemingly remain the same, only showing a glimmer of change — lasting less than a couple of minutes. Technically, praise must be directed to Emile Mosseri’s score. Without any dialogue or previous knowledge about the protagonists, the distinct genres of music playing over each character — pensive melodies with Evelyn, folk rock with Ziggy — tell the viewers a lot about their differences, while also demonstrating their similarities by blending their individual, separate tracks at the same time.

When You Finish Saving the World shows Jesse Eisenberg’s solid attributes as a first-time director, but the unrewarding story led by two unbearable protagonists makes it a difficult watch. Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard are excellent at making the viewer hate their frustratingly hypocritical & narcissistic characters — who disappointingly fail to show any sort of learning curve or a complete arc. Eisenberg boasts a firmly honest vision by ensuring every scene carries a clear purpose and underlying message. In the end, it’s just a matter of perspective: recognising the lack of a healthy mother-son relationship is undeniable proof of efficient storytelling. But the third act truly needed a more impactful, less subtle conclusion.

When You Finish Saving the World premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival as part of the ‘Premieres’ category. A24 will release the film in the coming months.

By Manuel São Bento

A 28-year-old critic with a tremendous passion for film, television, and the art of filmmaking. An unbiased perspective from someone who stopped watching trailers since 2016. Member of GFCA, IFSC, and OFTA. Approved on Banana Meter. Social media: @msbreviews.