When You Finish Saving The World stars Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard as mother and teenage son in a very uncomfortable relationship. Premiering at the (virtual) Sundance Festival this week, the film is written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg.
The story highlights the layers of feelings we hide or project onto others. We quickly see that both characters live in their own narcissistic musical orbits. Ziggy (Wolfhard) spends his time performing songs to an online community. He awkwardly reminds us over and over again about his amazing audience of 20,000. His mother Evelyn (Moore) is a social activist who runs a family shelter. She disassociates from anything less important, including her son’s futile livestreams. Their relationship is strained with limited perspective, neither taking a minute to see one another.
Evelyn is infuriating with her self-righteous attitude. She drives a smart car, listens to classical music, and basically reminds her co-workers they can’t “have fun” at a shelter. Things get next level cringey when she develops a sort of son-crush with a teenager named Kyle (Billy Bryk) at the shelter. Failing to connect with her own son, she uses her role to try and influence Kyle’s future.
Meanwhile Finn has a crush on a girl at school who challenges him to use his reach (of 20,000 followers) for something more meaningful. Wanting to be ‘woke’ and win her affection, Finn makes a disappointing attempt to be something he is not. It’s frustrating because his optimism and openness to learn is genuine.
The ending is abrupt, like a light switches on to reveal signs of mutual respect. There’s still a hint that the struggle isn’t over, but we get a satisfying step forward. Hat tip to the way the classroom blinds look like a music mixer when “Pieces of Gold” plays.