'When You Finish Saving the World' by Jesse Eisenberg Review: The Struggles of Gen Z
After yesterday's disappointment, I didn't have high hopes or much excitement regarding today's random film pick. In fact, I was tempted to not pursue a random film today, and as I discovered When You Finish Saving the World, I noticed its cast featured an actor from Stranger Things. Finn Wolfhard as the protagonist. An actor I haven't seen much of, but admittedly I do have a lot of disinterest in much of the newer generation of film actors. Much of the time I feel they lack actual charisma and don't really feel all that interesting to view on screen. Perhaps this is something that makes me sound a bit old, but Gen Z actors and the films that come with them tend to just lose me. I don't get them, and the new Hollywood era just doesn't seem appealing to me.
Refusing to let this all stop me from this routine I currently have, I went ahead with the film to be met with the A24 logo. Now that is a production company I do have some familiarity with, so I had a bit of an idea of what to expect going forward, which definitely made me relax a little more. Alongside this came the discovery that the film was directed by Jesse Eisenberg. Quite a surprise to see him behind the directing role, but somewhat expected given he has to some degree decreased his performances in front of the camera as of late.
I have to say, I am very glad I did watch this film in the end. Forgetting about how I feel about the younger generation of actors and just seeing how they might perform when given the opportunity to really explore and grow. And I think this film was a great example of that, though in essence still oozing with that Gen Z nonsense; though weaved into the story in a way that explores some interesting ideas regarding the youth and lack of identity.
Identity is everything in When You Finish Saving the World. Exploring the idea of the young Gen Z individuals that struggle to find themselves in a world that they just can't seem to wrap their heads around. Stuck within the usual problems of youth; relationships, wanting to be cool, and egotistical behaviour. Everything is incredibly stereotypical in the film, to the point where our protagonist is a livestreaming musician surrounded by the most 'woke' people imaginable at school. Its students coming together to essentially have contests regarding how deep and progressive they can be. Everything incredibly political. None of this really meaning anything to our protagonist, however. Only interested in music and spreading his songs around the world, he struggles to fit in, asking the question as to whether he himself needs to become more politically aware.
This really takes a good look at our modern society and particularly in the younger generations which are plagued with the idea that progressiveness is an essential part in being cool and interesting. That the full extent of their personalities is really whatever talking points they can come up with to benefit an agenda. We see the ways that this impacts the youth and removes the soul from within, leading to an endless identity crisis as the youth just can't seem to figure out who they are, what they want, and what this all even means in the first place. In some instances this progressiveness makes your eyes roll, but it's intentional to really show the differences between our protagonist and the rest. Is this what is needed to get the girl he likes? Will his parents appreciate him more if he became more political? To which degree can his leverage online via his audience be used to promote his talking points?
This leads to the next struggle in finding the self: do we really need saving? This works surrounded by the idea that each of us are victims, as we tell each other how we should think and behave and what we deserve as a result of external and historical factors that don't actually have anything to do with us. Do people owe us something? What do we owe ourselves? The film explores what it means to be rude through life and find the right path, as others constantly attempt to guide you in the ways that they feel are best, not necessarily what you yourself feel are best. I really enjoyed how this was done, especially by utilising the character of the mother to display the one half that pushes rather than supporting, and our protagonist tries to support while not believing.
To add to this story of finding the self and the struggles that come with it in our modern society is a gentle score. Either from our musician protagonist or a strange, videogame sounding tone that resonates every now and then. I quite liked how it was done, it definitely added to the connection we had as the audience with the protagonist. Feeling for him and seeing his attempts to fit in and find himself within the rest. All while displaying his own individuality all along, if anything doing much more than any of the progressives that gather round and talk could dream of.
I think Jesse Eisenberg did a great job with this film. I'm quite impressed at how soft it feels despite the themes. It isn't too deep, nor is the directing and cinematography too much for us to take in. It's quite slow, from one perspective to another. Delicate much like the people we see on screen. With a nice colour palette that doesn't scream too Gen Z without stepping too far from the modern fashion styles. It definitely had that A24 stamp that I have come to expect. Featuring smooth bokeh and good lighting. Plenty of wide angle perspectives from the lenses used that make us sit and watch characters interact within their environment, making things a bit more real for us as we observe it all. To add to all of this is the very short runtime, allowing the film to say what it wants and go. It didn't overreach, nor did it attempt to explore themes that were not given enough time. Everything felt tightly wrapped up and concluded. Just under 1 hour and 30 minutes. And I definitely believe it could have been ruined by trying to make it more artistic, lengthening the runtime with longer scenes and more artistic directing. But it just wasn't necessary, not would it have done the story justice. The softness of Gen Z, the attempts to explore and understand the self, and the discovery that rejecting everyone else's beliefs is the key to finding the happiness within.
For all of the reasons mentioned, I can definitely recommend the film. It's far from perfect, but it does plenty of great things that justify a watch. Even if in parts, as mentioned, the progressive nature of its characters does seem utterly insufferable, to which they feel they hold all the answers to the world. But the film reminds us many times: none of us do. We are all just running around together. Clueless and trying to get by and find meaning.