There are flashes of an interesting movie present inside Jesse Eisenberghis directorial debut When you’re done saving the world, it’s just a shame that the satirical flourishes and occasional nuance teased throughout aren’t consecrated enough to be considered an overall hit. The final 20 minutes of the film leans into the emotional punch that Eisenberg clearly hopes to hit his audience, but, as seems to be typical with films that attempt to convey a message (this one with a capital M), this effective end is canceled. by the preceding 70 minutes.
The white upper middle class and its “progressive” ways are the main targets of Eisenberg’s effort, and he is not at all subtle in their presentation. They drive smart cars. They listen to classical music without irony. And they certainly don’t believe white people should play the blues; this representation is when Eisenberg is not it aim for nuance.
Commuters who incur Eisenberg’s ire are Evelyn Katz (Julianne Moore) and his son, Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard, clearly channeling its director with a sense of entitlement that suits the character but irritates us as viewers). She runs a shelter for families affected by domestic violence. He’s a high school student-musician whose folk-pop tunes have earned him a substantial following on the TikTok-esque platform he performs on. They are both extremely passionate about what they do, but they misinterpret each other’s motivations very badly.
The struggle of the film lies in this inability for them to see the value of the mission of the other. Evelyn is practically robotic and thus by the book she is incredibly detached from reality, while Ziggy, although more a free spirit in theory, similarly expresses a certain disconnect, with her “fame” blinding her to the fact that his only talking point is that he has “20,000 followers” and is admired for his “passion and charisma”; sequences where he continually points this out in an effort to impress the waiting activist Lila (Alisha Boe) are painful to bear.
Evelyn and Ziggy are so sincere that they tragically destroy much of the film, with their own individual crusades – she tries to “save” one of her proteges (Billy Brick), he hopes to become more political – not enough to justify spending so much with them. The connection we as audiences really need to get emotionally invested in is never more than a sporadic thought for Eisenberg, Evelyn, and Ziggy spending so much time apart in the film that so much remains unexplored.
Although the film is essentially superficial, a drama for the wealthy willing to help but lacking the empathy to do so, Eisenberg’s intent is there. The brief moments of biting commentary on the “white savior” suggest he has the ability to tell a great story, but When you’re done saving the world ironically lacks the gradation to make a worthy impact.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
When you’re done saving the world is screening as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which runs virtually from January 20-30, 2022. For more information, go to Sundance official page.