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Review: Julianne Moore shines in 'When You Finish Saving the World'

"When You Finish Saving the World" boasts powerful performances from Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard who play a mother and teen son who struggle to connect.

PORTLAND, Maine — [Editor's note: This article is a critical analysis of a film and doesn't represent the views of NEWS CENTER Maine, but that of the author.]

A new coming-of-age drama from A24 stars Julianne Moore and "Stranger Things" star Finn Wolfhard. 

It's called "When You Finish Saving the World," and it opens in theaters this weekend.  

The Story

"When You Finish Saving the World" follows the story of a boy named Ziggy (Wolfhard) and his mother, Evelyn (Moore), and their inability to connect. It's the very definition of a coming-of-age film. 

This project is adapted from an audio drama by Jesse Eisenberg. He also serves as both director and screenwriter for this film. 

Ziggy is a talented young musician who has thousands of fans on social media. He writes songs and then performs them live for them weekly to earn money. 

Meanwhile, Evelyn runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. She's intense and wishes her son had higher ambitions than just playing music. 

So, Ziggy and Evelyn each seek out in other people what they're not getting in their own mother/son relationship due to several missed olive branches and disconnects. 

When a teen boy and his mother end up in Evelyn's shelter, she takes an ambitious interest in his future, attempting, in bizarre fashion, to turn him into a kind of surrogate son for herself. 

At school, Ziggy has a crush on a girl named Lila (Alisha Boe). She's passionate about politics and poetry, things Ziggy isn't all that knowledgeable in. But that doesn't stop him from trying to constantly impress her and win her recognition and positive affirmations. 

Both characters go to extreme lengths to forge connections with their intended people, all the while coming into conflict with each other, burning what little bridge remains between them. 


Some scenes in "When You Finish Saving the World" can be hard to watch because Ziggy can be wildly clueless, while Evelyn is downright frightening in how far she goes to force a mentoring relationship with the boy at her shelter. 

Both lead characters come across as toxic, but Moore and Wolfhard portray them so well. Evelyn comes across as unhinged at times in this movie, and Moore plays that role perfectly. 

Meanwhile, Ziggy, although a bit of a doofus, really comes alive in his music. Wolfhard has the best scene in the film when his character puts Lila's poem to music. It's hard to watch that performance and not smile because Wolfhard makes for a surprisingly charismatic singer. Music might be the only thing he's good at, but he truly excels with a guitar in his hand. 

On top of that, "When You Finish Saving the World" has a film score that is perfectly in sync with the movie's raw emotional themes and the despair of these characters who are constantly lonely despite living under the same roof. And that's courtesy of Emile Mosseri who composed a score that masterfully compliments the film. 

The story falls a little short of its potential, ending before rewarding the audience with a satisfying conclusion. It feels like the writers cut it a couple of minutes early. On top of that, "When You Finish Saving the World" feels longer than it actually is—and that's never good. The movie isn't even an hour and a half long. 

Jay O. Sanders is also entirely wasted in his role as the family's patriarch. He's in a few scenes and isn't given much development or use. "When You Finish Saving the World" feels as though its narrative would have benefited from either properly fleshing out Sanders' character or scrapping him altogether. 

As it stands, he could be pulled right out of the story without any noticeable changes. 

Fortunately, Moore's and Wolfhard's performances are front and center in this movie, and they're strong. The film's leads are where it succeeds, and having a solid soundtrack doesn't hurt either. 

Also playing this week

A mystery thriller called "Missing" also opens in theaters this weekend. Here's the official synopsis from Sony: 

"When her mother disappears while on vacation in Colombia with her new boyfriend, June's search for answers is hindered by international red tape. Stuck thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, June creatively uses all the latest technology at her fingertips to try and find her before it's too late. But as she digs deeper, her digital sleuthing raises more questions than answers and when June unravels secrets about her mom, she discovers that she never really knew her at all." 

Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern star in "The Son," which also debuts in theaters this week. It's a prequel to 2020's "The Father." 

Here's the official synopsis from Sony: 

"A couple of years after his parents’ divorce, 17-year-old Nicholas no longer feels he can stay with his mother, Kate. He moves in with his father Peter and Peter’s new partner Beth. Juggling work, his and Beth’s new baby, and the offer of his dream job in Washington, Peter tries to care for Nicholas as he wishes his own father had cared for him. But by reaching for the past to correct its mistakes, he loses sight of how to hold onto the Nicholas in the present." 

To see which movies are playing at a theater near you, click here

For more movie thoughts, follow Courtney on Twitter, here.

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