Jesse Eisenberg moves behind the camera as he turns his lockdown audio drama When You Finish Saving the World into his first directorial feature. Even though it’s convicted in the message it's trying to push, it ends up being a disappointing and shallow exploration of the subject matter, which ends up getting lost behind the caricature of the main characters.
Written by Alex Gilston
When You Finish Saving the World places us into the lives of mother and son, Evelyn and Ziggy Katz. Evelyn is a social worker who helps house victims of domestic abuse, and Ziggy is a high school teenager who sings original songs for his thousands of followers on the social media platform HiHat. Both are unhappy with each other and throughout the film set to find replacements for one another. The narrative is at its most interesting when Evelyn is trying to mould a boy she has met at the shelter she runs into her ideal son. Seeing her desperately clamber to lead him on a path of conventional success will be an all but prevalent message for the youth of today.
Where it goes awry however is the film's representation of that very youth. Every interaction Ziggy Katz has with another person in the film is cringe-inducing. By using him as a vehicle to show off ignorance, it risks alienating the people it's trying to reach out to. This is to do with nothing other than the screenplay which treats its characters as caricatures in a way that lacks the depth, which is needed when a film is as much about politics as When You Finish Saving the World is. None of the characters are genuine and no more so than Julianne Moore’s Evelyn, even though more does dish out a wonderful performance.
Although Eisenberg tries his best, you can’t help but feel like When You Finish Saving the World does work better as an audio drama. Everything that could elevate it in the visual medium takes a back seat, and the screenplay isn’t enough to save it overall. In a film where the main message is about how we fulfil our lives and more to the point that it can be fulfilled in any which way is best for the individual, it never taps into that message enough to make a point. Jesse Eisenberg does show promise, however, and it would be intriguing to see where he goes next in a directorial role.