Fresh off the well-received premier of his Hulu miniseries Fleishman Is in Trouble, Oscar-nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg is looking forward to the release of his screenwriting and directorial debut in When You Finish Saving The World, a coming-of-age dramedy that stars Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard as a mother and son who struggle to bridge the generational gap between them.
Though movie trailers aren’t everything and they too often trick the audience into forming the wrong impression of a film, the trailer for When You Finish Saving The World looks… to borrow a word from the younger generation… cheugy. Between the soundbites about politics, cultural appropriation and live streaming, the trailer feels like an awkward attempt to capture the zeitgeist of Gen Z in a manner that reads as if a director who’s pushing 40 tried to find the voice of the youth by binging TikTok for a few hours and googling “Zoomer fashion.”
When You Finish Saving The World is based on Eisenberg’s Audible drama of the same name, which won the awkwardly named Audie Award in 2021 for “Original Work.” The film adaptation is set up similarly to another A24 film, Lady Bird, as well as countless other stories which have attempted to portray the complicated relationship between a well-meaning yet set-in-her-ways mother and her sensitive, artistic, and endlessly angsty progeny. When You Finish Saving The World premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to generally favorable reviews, garnering a respectable 66 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
However, the dialogue snippets from the film’s trailer betray a patronizing tone that is not always perceptible to the older writers who try to capture the expressions of a younger generation. Even the title carries the condescension of a parent who finds their teenager’s attempts at engaging with the sociopolitics of their age quaint and puerile– though that may be the point. In the trailer, Wolfhard’s character, Ziggy Katz, performs political beliefs that he doesn’t quite understand and fashions himself to be the center of a small universe of Twitch followers who flock to his “classic folk rock with alternative influences.”
Though it’s never fair to jump to conclusions after watching a 2-minute trailer, When You Finish Saving The World seems to land at the intersection of “kids these days” and “too much phones” in its portrayal of a beanie-wearing, buzzword-spewing zoomer who is “trapped inside (his) own little world,” in the words of his mother who happens to be describing every generation of teenagers throughout recorded history. The stinger at the end of the trailer when Moore and Wolfhard pile into a Smartcar gives the impression that the comedy half of the dramedy will be based on low-hanging fruit generational jokes, much like the dad’s earlier dig on “cultural appropriation.”
It’s not impossible for an older writer to capture the ever-changing elocution of the young – it just needs to be done with a high level of empathy and none of the condescension or infantilization that often comes when elder millennials attempt to make topical jokes at the expense of the zoomers. Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is probably the best example of a writer/director listening to the generation below him and earnestly attempting to understand what is important to them and what frightens them about the world us oldheads built.
Hopefully, the rest of When You Finish Saving the World not featured in the trailer brings with it the empathy and respect for a generation that is all-too-wary of pandering or patronization, otherwise Eisenberg’s debut will be about as popular with Gen Z as his old character Mark Zuckerberg’s upcoming Metaverse – which is to say, not at all.