When You Finish Saving the World is a story about navigating tough relationships. Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) has stars in his eyes as he aspires to be an internationally renowned musician. He spends hours in his room live-streaming original folk songs across the world, much to the befuddlement of his parents. This is especially true for Ziggy’s mother Evelyn (Julianne Moore) who heads up a shelter for victims of abuse. Due to Ziggy’s defiance and distance from her, Evelyn begins spending more time with Kyle (Billy Bryk)—the son of one of the shelter’s residents. As Ziggy becomes enamored with Lila (Alisha Boe) and her political activism, he tries to reconnect with his mother in the hopes of learning more about the world to impress his new crush.
What works in When You Finish Saving the World is the raw satire. Writer and director Jesse Eisenberg (with his filmmaking debut) paints his characters as extreme versions of their worst impulses. From there, they are unleashed unto each other with darkly comedic and very awkward results. For example, Ziggy can’t go more than 3 minutes before he’s spouting off his social media metrics, injecting them into conversations with irrelevancy. Evelyn on the other hand, desperately tries to create a matriarchal bond with Kyle to compensate for the one she lacks with Ziggy. The compelling facet of the tale is that both Ziggy and Evelyn could get exact what they need from each other if they simply swapped their selfishness for empathy and perspective.
Audiences who don’t enjoy movies laden with unlikable characters may not enjoy When You Finish Saving the World as much as others. Ziggy and Evelyn treat each other with incredible disdain, and every word shared between them drips with disrespect. Their interactions with others aren’t much better. Evelyn’s “pursuit” of Kyle is uncomfortable at best and creepy at worst—a dynamic that purposely parallels Ziggy’s fascination with Lila. As such, When You Finish Saving the World lacks a character worth rooting for. Instead, Eisenberg seems content with offering a rather bleak (put perhaps insightful) commentary on how people use their passions as an excuse for poor behavior.
When You Finish Saving the World is a thoughtful reflection on a very particular aspect of human nature. At its core, the film explores the consequences of self-centeredness when pushed to its absolute limit. With this conceit, some people will find the characters too off-putting, for those who can appreciate You Finish Saving the World as a distortion, some important messages lay within.
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When You Finish Saving the World is available in theaters starting on January 20th, 2023.