In 2020 Jesse Eisenberg wrote an Audible Original radio drama, which he also co-narrated, alongside Kaitlyn Dever and Finn Wolfhard. The latter returned to reprise his role as Ziggy Katz in the film adaptation, which premiered earlier this year at Sundance and marks Eisenberg’s directing debut.

Ziggy is an awkward high school student by day, and a virally successful singer-songwriter live-streaming his music across the globe by night. His crush, Lila (played by the mesmerising Alisha Boe), is not swayed by his frantic attempts to impress her with numbers of subscribers. She is a bright political activist who writes poems about the colonisation of the Pacific ocean. Meanwhile Ziggy’s mother (Julianne Moore), who works at a women’s shelter, takes a particular interest in one of her charge’s sons, who, despite his sensibility, still wants to work in his abusive father’s bodyshop. 

When You Finish Saving the World begins with a collage of video chat footage of Ziggy’s audience, who watch him perform one of his songs. The lyrics, clearly elucidated at a later stage, are about “two high-speed cars on parallel streets” and set the tone for the plot. Their storylines are similar; despite ample opportunity (the young mechanic and Ziggy go to the same school), there are no intersections, but still their individual paths bring the estranged mother and son closer to each other, as they fail to bond with their respective surrogates. 

Eisenberg approaches the dramatic elements of his script with sensitivity, without becoming too sentimental. The comedic parts follow the usual heightened pattern of teenage angst and parental confusion, but are never farcical or exaggerated to the point where either party would be outright mocked. 

The dry delivery of dialogue works for the most part, but on occasion, in combination with the actors’ deadpan faces, can evoke the feeling of watching a table read, rather than the converted product.

A conscious decision was made to leave many of the shots and scenes as early as possible, once the necessary information was delivered. This is encouraged in film schools as it has the desired effect of moving the action along at a snappy pace and, with it’s runtime of 88 minutes, this feature favourably falls into Netflix’s new SNL inspired “Short-Ass Movies” category. The downside is that this strategy can rob the characters of the opportunity to grant the audience insight into whatever emotion lingers after an unpleasant exchange, or reveal to the viewer what they would never want to reveal to any of the other characters.

★★★☆☆

Selina Sondermann

When You Finish Saving the World does not have a UK release date yet.

For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.

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