Ever since it was announced that Jason Segel would be playing David Foster Wallace, in a movie based on David Lipsky’s book about five days he spent accompanying the late author on a book tour, the question has been: Will this be like when Philip Seymour Hoffman plumbed the depths of Truman Capote’s soul, or will it be more like Ashton Kushner standing in front of a garage and saying, “Welcome to Apple Computer”?
Now the first images of Segel, on location and in costume, with his co-star Jesse Eisenberg, have hit Instagram and have begun to spread across the Internet.
How much comfort you take in this probably comes down to whether you mostly think of David Foster Wallace as a witty, verbose writer who publicly wrestled with his own self-consciousness in print while trying to capture all the complications and possibilities of life in his time or a lumbering dude in a do-rag. There is no actual entry for “Do-rags, worn by” in the index to the excellent biography of Wallace that the new movie is not based on.
There isn’t a lot else to go on here, and it may be a mistake to make too much of the do-rag. It’s just that longtime Wallace watchers have gotten so tired of seeing those pictures in which he was photographed wearing a do-rag—there being even more photos readily available in which he wasn’t—that the sloppy headgear has become a dreaded symbol of all the attempts to squeeze a complex figure into a marketable stereotype of ‘90s-style geek chic that’s meant to be relatable to those who would rather bask in his image than read his work. It can also be said that Segel is wearing an expression that pretty much screams, “I don’t know what I’m doing here or why I agreed to do it,” which sums up the voice that Wallace often used in his nonfiction as well as anything. But it seems less likely that, when the movie wraps, Segel will go home and write 50,000 words about it.