Hot Take: A dark, honest look at the life of alcoholic turned paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan from Gus Van Sant featuring a stellar performance from Joaquin Phoenix.
Okay, so that’s not much of a Hot Take. Walking into Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot cold, I knew nothing of what the movie was about. Surprisingly, I quickly learned it was about cartoonist John Callahan with whom I was actually familiar with for in a previous phase of spending lots of time at the book store, I happened to pick up one of his collections of cartoons. I knew nothing of Callahan at the time other than his artwork was crude and his wit was dark but sharp and hilarious. The cover of “Do What He Says! He’s Crazy!!!” features a man holding a gun to a hand puppet as three cops stare on outside of a Hand Puppet store with a broken glass window. Learning that Callahan was paralyzed due to a horrible car accident during his years as an alcoholic added some color to his life and choice of humor. Played by Phoenix, Callahan’s battle with alcohol and his eventual sobriety and ability to become a more functional paraplegic than he was as a person with full functionality is an impressive tale in itself. At this point, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is likely far from the box office though it still remained at 19 theaters through last weekend. You’re more likely going to have to catch this one on demand, through a streaming service or via Redbox and if you’re into tales of redemption and how AA can provide the path for a lost soul.
Featuring Phoenix as Callahan isn’t the only casting coup for the Gus Van Sant directed biopic. Jonah Hill as Callahan’s AA group leader and sponsor Donnie Green actually steals the spotlight from Phoenix when he’s on screen. Both Phoenix and Hill could resurface come Awards season for their work here. The film also features Rooney Mara as Callahan’s Swedish physical therapist and love interest Annu. Jack Black has a small, powerful role as the man who gets completely wasted with John and drives Callahan into their accident (which Black’s character Dexter walks away from completely unscathed physically).
While the film bounces around Callahan’s life and times between alcoholism and sobriety, the timeline stays fairly coherent. Director Van Sant who also wrote the film (his first writing credit in 11 years) is as solid as you’d expect from the man behind My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting and Milk, to name a few from his impressive resume. There’s not a lot of experimentation here as the bulk of the time is spent on Callahan’s story which is compelling enough in itself.
There’s a lot of heavy stuff here in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot but there’s enough humor and sentimentality to provide the celebration a recovery like Callahan’s deserves. Most of the damage done to him is self-inflicted and the film addresses that but once he hits bottom, Callahan turns things around and this film does enough to credit him while not going over the top with praise of his accomplishments. Having passed away in 2010, this film acts as a memorial for his life along with his dark and poignant artwork which was spent mostly in a wheelchair. Supported by Phoenix’s wonderful performance, Callahan’s charisma and charm shine through the blemishes that also colored his character and as a whole, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot offers an inspirational story of overcoming adversity and making amends.
A competent biopic with heart sounds like something you want to watch.
This is a mostly straightforward tale with no great revelations so it might lack the spark you’re looking for.