Sundance 2022 Review: “When You Finish Saving the World”

Year: 2022


Runtime: 88 minutes


Director and Writer: Jesse Eisenberg


Stars: Julianne Moore, Finn Wolfhard, Billy Bryk, Alisha Boe, Jack Justice, Jay O. Sanders, Eleonore Hendricks

By Morgan Roberts

There is no way to sugarcoat the drawn out self-indulgence of “When You Finish Saving the World” (2022).  In many ways, it centers on two caricatures of the worst people possible: an extremely privileged white kid who has space to do whatever he wants and the person who somehow received a degree to become a counselor when they desperately need therapy themselves.  No one is particularly likable in this film.

Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) is an internet-famous hack who makes mediocre versions of Elliott Smith-rip off music in his room while he constantly battles his overbearing mother, Evelyn (Julianne Moore). Evelyn somehow works at the only domestic violence shelter with a metaphorical neon sign out front.  While at work, she one day meets Kyle (Billy Bryk) and his mother Angie (Eleonore Hendricks) who are escaping a domestically violent home.  Evelyn becomes almost obsessed with Kyle and overly invested in a child she just met.  Ziggy, being moody and annoying, obsesses over classmate Lila (Alisha Boe) who has way too much emotional intelligence to stoop low enough to intera​​ct with someone as unaware of themselves as Ziggy.

As a first time director, Jesse Eisenberg has a long history in film, and demonstrates technical abilities with some interesting framing decisions and camera movement.  But that is about where the filmmaking praises end.  The script crafted is arrogant and directionless.  Both central characters meander from one life event to the next.  None of the characters or their actions make sense.

Wolfhard comes in hard as the most unbearable teenager in cinema.  Maybe it is the poorly written screenplay, but the lines were at times unintelligible and unfathomably haughty.  The character is snobby without an ounce of a redeeming quality.  Meanwhile, Moore embodies the most insufferable woman you know – the one who thinks control and belittlement is how you help someone.  Her character makes Hannibal Lecter look like a good therapist.  If the goal was to highlight the worst people possible with no growth or nuance then the filmmaking team did their job.  But as for crafting a refined and explorative film, it missed the mark.

“When You Finish Saving the World” makes an 88-minute runtime feel like a slog due to its inability to formulate a clear vision.  The film wants to be what “Lady Bird” was – a beautiful snapshot at a crossroad in life.  Instead, it is a film that makes its audience feel like roadkill after being beaten down by its pomposity.  

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