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The Independent Critic

Julianne Moore, Finn Wolfhard, Billy Bryk, Alisha Boe, Jay O. Sanders
Jesse Eisenberg
Rated R
88 Mins.

 Movie Review: When You Finish Saving the World 
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It's likely reasonable to say that When You Finish Saving the World isn't quite the film we'd hoped it would be when we first found out that beloved actor Jesse Eisenberg would be making his feature directing debut with this film based off of Eisenberg's own 2020 Audible book. 

This isn't to say that When You Finish Saving the World is a weak film. It's most definitely not. It's just a wee bit of an underachiever, though I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that Eisenberg would serve up a small indie/arthouse comedy/drama for his first outing with a story that both co-leads Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard could easily sleep their way through but never do. 

Moore is Evelyn, a socially progressive woman who works at a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. She's raised her son, Ziggy (Wolfhard), to be equally socially conscious but Ziggy's social awareness has taken a detour into the land of livestream musical perofrmances where he's more obsessed with pleasing his 20,000 followers than making his community a better place to live. 

Then, he meets Lila (Alisha Boe). They meet cute, though she actually is a socially aware activist and, well, you know pretty much exactly where this is going to go though, it must be said, Eisenberg fleshes it all out nicely with an abundance of details making this potential relationship feel refreshingly awkward in its authenticity. 

Evelyn, on the other hand, grieves the loss of connection with her son but fails to recognize her own role in how it all unfolded. She's not quite a basket case, but it's hard not to see a little bit of PTSD lingering in her psyche as she copes with the demands of her shelter work while also trying to maintain some semblance of home life. This is most definitely my favorite kind of Julianne Moore role and she brings it vividly to life. In lieu of her ability to reconnect with Ziggy, Evelyn takes a maternal interest in Kyle (Billy Bryk). The teenage son of one of the women (Eleonore Hendricks) currently staying at the shelter, Kyle is in some ways the son that Evelyn aspires to have even if it's not long before the cyclical nature of her parenting fails rises to the surface amidst scenes that border on the edge of creepy with healthy doses of poor boundaries. 

Eisenberg's screenplay is a quiet wonder, not so much a work of perfection but a work of messy honesty. Eisenberg clearly understands actors and infuses the screenplay with a relational quality that brings this ensemble to life and allows them to find the little nuances of their characters. It's practically undeniable that Moore and Wolfhard are the highlights here, though both Alisha Boe and Billy Bryk shine and Eleonore Hendricks takes what little screen time she has and makes it mean something special. The presence of Jay O. Sanders is always welcome, though he's mostly an afterthought here as Ziggy's father. 

If I were to pick a favorite original score for this first month of 2023, it would likely be Emile Mosseri's atmospheric, narratively informed work for When You Finish Saving the World. It's a beautiful companion for this story and immerses itself inside Benjamin Loeb's naturally observational lensing for the film. 

I've long been an Eisenberg fan, a fact likely amplified by the actor's time in my home state of Indiana. When You Finish Saving the World may not quite be all the film that I wanted it to be, however, there are so many tremendous gems throughout the film's 88-minute running time that as the closing credits were rolling I found myself anxiously awaiting whatever project Eisenberg tackles next. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic