When You Finish Saving the World

When her teenaged son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) tells his mom he’ll be ready in 5 seconds for a ride to school, that is exactly how long Evelyn (Julianne Moore) waits before driving off.  When Ziggy was a little boy, he used to accompany his mother to all of her protest rallies, but now that he is focused on his 20,000 followers on Hi Hat, where he livestreams his banal ‘rock with alternative influences,’ his humorless mother finds nothing to connect them in “When You Finish Saving the World.”

Laura's Review: C+

Writer/director Jesse Eisenberg's caustic sense of humor is evident in his feature directorial debut and we can see that the actor is also a natural filmmaker, but this first effort targets two characters who are singularly unsympathetic and that destroys any rooting interesting in the reparation of their relationship.  There are a few chuckles to be had along the way, Eisenberg proving particularly adept with the visual gag, but “When You Finish Saving the World” eventually becomes as myopic as its lead characters.

Evelyn is the director of an abused women’s shelter whose savior complex has calcified into narcissism.  We first meet her chiding employees celebrating a birthday in their break room because their singing can be heard over her intake session.  She returns home to a husband, Roger (Jay O. Sanders), who becomes frustrated in his attempts to lead a family life as neither wife nor son shows any interest in anything beyond their own nose.

Ziggy screams when his mother attempts to talk to him, accusing her of interrupting his livestream (he’ll eventually nail a makeshift ‘On Air” warning outside his bedroom door), his lame attempt at Internet stardom mostly appreciated by young Chinese girls likely more interested in his dark eyes and long locks than his off key singing and amateur songwriting.

Then something strange happens.  Ziggy becomes infatuated with Lila (Alisha Boe, "Do Revenge"), a politically knowledgeable and active high schooler while Evelyn insists on seeing a socially active future for one of his classmates, Kyle (Billy Bryk, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife"), the son of a woman, Angie (Eleonore Hendricks, "Heaven Knows What"), who’s taken shelter from an abusive husband.  While Ziggy continually makes himself look foolish trying to impress Lila, Evelyn drives Kyle, who just wants to follow his dad’s footsteps working in his auto body shop, to distraction trying to get him an Oberlin scholarship.  (And while the kind and sensitive Kyle should have his choice of vocation, his ironic choice of mentor - the man who has abused the mother he protects – is never commented upon.)

Moore and Wolfhard give great self absorption, Moore particularly funny shutting down Kyle’s interest is the Spanish speaking translator (Monica Sanchez, "The Glorias") she’s brought him to meet, Wolfhard’s cluelessness almost endearing.  Bryk is especially notable as a good kid whose efforts to please escalate into anxiety.  But while Eisenberg elicits the right notes from his actors, his narrative has them sampling a loop.  Although some scenes appear washed out, the production is mostly fine.  Eisenberg’s cut from a long interior close-up in Evelyn’s vehicle to a long shot revealing a Smart car overwhelmed by its Indiana streets illustrates good comedic instincts.

“When You Finish Saving the World” is too one note to satisfy, but Eisenberg, who has proven chops as an author, shows promise as a filmmaker.

Robin's Review: C+

A24 opens "When You Finish Saving the World" in select theaters on 1/20/23.