Review: When You Finish Saving The World (#Sundance2022)

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Fantastic performances can’t overcome a script that pokes around the point before speeding towards an undeveloped resolution in Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut, When You Finish Saving The World.

Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) spends his days lusting after a classmate and his evenings performing original music on social media while his mother Evelyn (Julianne Moore) runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. The distance between them grows as Evelyn attempts to mentor a the teenage son of a new woman at the shelter, recognizing a connection that is missing with her own son. When You Finish Saving The World spends much of its short 90-minute runtime depicting the clashes between mother and son, the inability for either to understand where one another is coming from, and building up to what one would expect to be a poignant climax. Though the emotion is layered into each line of dialogue and the empathy demanded of the audience high, Eisenberg’s script leaps over the important parts in the third act resulting in a disappointing, sudden ending. The journey from division to understanding takes mere minutes, a lackluster payoff for an otherwise strong debut.

Moore puts in a performance that once again shows her versatility and strength as an actor while Wolfhard embodies the angsty, lovelorn teen trying to make his way in the world with precision (and even singing). Their relationship as mother and son will hook viewers almost immediately; many probably have experienced similar dynamics within their own family. For a premise as potentially impactful as the one at the core of When You Finish Saving The World, this is a rare time that I would advocate for a longer runtime in order to bring the two leads together to hash out what the film has expertly set up. Still, Eisenberg is a filmmaker with a bright future behind the camera.

Rating: 3/5

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