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Breaking Awaits

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Beth Garrabrant/Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
When You Finish Saving the World (2022)

With “When You Finish Saving the World,” it feels as though actor-turned-filmmaker Jesse Eisenberg has created what seems like an entire universe populated with Mark Zuckerbergs – at least his own take on the tech titan memorialized for posterity in “The Social Network.”

There are two chief Zuckerbergs: Evelyn (Julianne Moore), an aloof, imperious and sanctimonious director of a women’s shelter; and her son, Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard), a vacuous and self-absorbed music creator who has found internet fame on a Twitch-esque platform. They obviously do not understand each other; Evelyn can’t begin to fathom how severe a violation it is to barge into his room during a livestream.

Ziggy’s number of online followers does not translate directly to social capital at school, though, as he fails to impress the super woke Lila (Alisha Boe). He isn’t well-versed in her political jargon and gets mocked by her clique every time he chimes in. Meanwhile, Evelyn develops an unhealthy interest in Kyle (Billy Bryk), son of a resident under her care. She oversteps bounds, takes it upon herself to influence his academic and career choices, and showers him with gifts and meals.

Indeed, like Mr. Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg, both Evelyn and Ziggy appear to be self-involved and to live inside their own heads. While there is no indication that these characters are necessarily extensions of Mr. Eisenberg himself, he certainly knows the type well enough so that you at least understand them even if you can’t stand them. Ms. Moore stands out in particular, as she’s never been this dowdy and insufferable before yet embodies the role so effortlessly.

Uncannily, Mr. Eisenberg’s adaptation of his own audio play is, like the David Fincher film, also set in a college town – not Cambridge, Mass., but Bloomington, Ind. Though not actually filmed there (Albuquerque, N.M., standing in), the film casually drops lots of seemingly gratuitous Hoosier-specific references. Evelyn’s organization, Spruce Haven, is a thinly-veiled Middle Way House. The Ethiopian restaurant where Evelyn treats Kyle seems to be a nod at Ashenda’s Abasha Restaurant (now closed, per Yelp). Even Evelyn’s husband and Ziggy’s father, Roger (Jay O. Sanders), is a chancellor at Indiana University. The only one that doesn’t ring a bell is the International Working Class chapter where Lila hangs out and partakes in open mic. Mr. Eisenberg apparently took up residence in Bloomington at one point, though specifics are sketchy on his Wikipedia page. These expository details are thoughtful and interesting, certainly.

Eventually, Ziggy requires a crash course in wokespeak from mom in order to impress Lila; and Kyle’s mother, Angie (Eleonore Hendricks), basically tells Evelyn to mind her own business. It’s only then that Evelyn and Ziggy realize they need each other – and perhaps there’s hope yet for them, unlike Mark’s pending friend request to Erica (Rooney Mara) at the end of “The Social Network.”

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