When You Finish Saving the World

Her eyes say everything.

When Evelyn (Julianne Moore), a social worker, looks into her patients’ eyes, she radiates a kind superiority that makes her feel good about the difference she tries to make. Rarely looking beyond what she first sees, Evelyn maintains a distance as she observes, reminding us that she will always be the center of attention.

While this approach to work may work at work, it doesn’t work at home, where Evelyn’s disconnected relationship with her husband leads to quiet dinners without conversation, and her failure to connect with her son, Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard), creates a vacuum that he tries to fill with music and social media. Only when Evelyn meets a young man at work does she begin to discover what she needs to reach beyond herself.

When You Finish Saving the World”– an awkward adaptation by Jesse Eisenberg (“Resistance,” “The Social Network”) of his audiobook from 2019 – tries to address all the reasons people in families lose touch with each other. With a frantic pace at moments, Eisenberg – as if he can’t complete a sentence – bounces from one uncomfortable moment to the next, painting Evelyn as a disjointed resource for the disheartened and Ziggy as a young man in panic. Rarely does the filmmaker give the characters the quiet moments we need to simply be what he hopes we will see.

Always a performer who communicates truth, Moore lets the quiet moments reveal Evelyn’s soul....

Julianne Moore (“Still Alice,” “The Seventh Son“), though, is such a gifted actress that she only needs a few moments to fill the screen with a character’s life. Working from Eisenberg’s words – but not limiting her portrayal to the director and writer tries to convey – Moore creates an Evelyn we would love to meet for tea, a well-read, thoughtful woman who has no idea how to control the swirl around her. Yes, she loves her son, but something stops her from bringing to him what her clients receive. Only when she begins to let a client begin to play the role of someone she hopes to influence does Evelyn begin to see the truth her life creates.

As long as “When You Finish the World” focuses on Moore, the movie fascinates because she creates a compelling character. Always a performer who communicates truth, Moore lets the quiet moments reveal Evelyn’s soul, drawing us into what defines how this woman behaves. Because Moore demonstrates such patience with Evelyn, we get the time we need to explore her many layers. What could have become a one-dimensional take on a misunderstood mother emerges, instead, a remarkable journey into the choices people make that can get in the way of their best intentions.

While, for the audience, Moore makes us want more, filmmaker Eisenberg doesn’t know when to stop. He dilutes our concern for Ziggy by highlighting his challenges, never letting us see the potential his mother longs to nurture. Only when we see Ziggy through Moore’s eyes can we imagine what this young man could be and what the movie could have been.

Final Thought

Moore gets an A, but Eisenberg brings the movie down. "When You Finish Saving the World" is Rated R for language. The film runs 1 hour, 28 minutes.


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