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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

When You Finish Saving the World: Review

When You Finish Saving the World Synopsis: Evelyn (Julianne Moore) and her oblivious son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) are far from connected. Evelyn desperately tries to parent an unassuming teenager at her shelter, while Ziggy fumbles through his pursuit of a brilliant young woman at school.

A disconnected mother and son wrestle with their virtues in When You Finish Saving the World. As a long-awaited holdover from the Sundance 2022 slate, World marks the writing and directorial debut of Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg.

Eisenberg continues to be a fascinating Hollywood eccentric. His acidic wit and aloof personality accentuate him as a singular voice in the industry. Some may consider Eisenberg an endearing introvert for his distinctive quirks, while others often feel alienated by his smart-aleck behaviors.

Fittingly enough, Eisenberg's first feature behind the camera is proving to be equally divisive for viewers. When You Finish Saving the World places two admittedly conceited characters under the microscope as they navigate personal parables centered on their disillusioned sense of self-worth. For what may seem like a tricky high-wire balancing act to attempt on paper, Eisenberg pulls it off in spades with a sharp and quietly introspective family dramedy.

Eisenberg's cunning perspective is deeply felt in his screenplay. He draws remarkably lived-in characters with his first-time outing, coloring Evelyn and Ziggy as richly textured byproducts of their environment. Despite creating an at-risk shelter that leaves a lasting impact on its inhabitants, Evelyn lives day-to-day as a stuffy intellectual self-absorbed in her desire to be virtuous. Her son Ziggy focuses solely on his career as an emerging streaming musician, so much so that he can't seem to win the affection of a politically-minded girl he's infatuated with.

As Ziggy tries to imitate his crush's interests and Evelyn gets involved with helping a bright student at her shelter, the characters form into expressive mirrors of each other. Ironically, the self-serving attitudes that ultimately divide Evelyn and her son are the forces that drive both characters in their respective pursuits.

Eisenberg skillfully articulates this dichotomy by defining his narrative within the zeitgeist of our socially conscious times - an era where most proudly wear their beliefs on their sleeve and preach them to anyone who will listen. For as much as we can care about essential causes, that pride can often transform many into sanctimonious voices propping up ego instead of meaningful change. We all dawn our own altruistic shields of armor, yet what does it really mean to care about an issue and be a genuinely good person? It's a dynamic that Eisenberg thoughtfully explores throughout and resonates with genuine impact for me.

Thankfully, When You Finish Saving the World is nowhere near as self-serious as its central characters. Eisenberg imbues biting humor that accentuates the growing divide facing Evelyn and Ziggy. The snied comments and snipping one-liners add levity and relatability to the all-too-familiar dynamic of a parent clashing with an angsty teenager. Stars Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard also elevate the characters. Both portray the exterior rigidness of Evelyn and Ziggy while still conveying the warmth and insecurities buried beneath their cocksure behaviors. The performers' tactful touch ensures that the prickly characters always remain empathetic figures for viewers to rally behind.

Eisenberg's direction is equally accomplished. What he and Cinematographer Benjamin Loeb lack in showy stylistic infusions, the duo readily makes up for with expressive framing choices that heighten the material's thematic undertones. Eisenberg displays poise and an authoritative command of his material throughout, never overworking his aesthetics in a way that would didactically spell out his intriguing intentions. Composer Emile Mosseri also enhances the material with his alluring score and original songs. His blend of synth and traditional sounds becomes a pitch-perfect fit for the material's inherent quirks.

It may be deemed a sleight character study to some, but When You Finish Saving the World generated a meaningful impact on me through its refreshingly sincere approach to coming-of-age sentiments.

When You Finish Saving the World is now playing in theaters.


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