Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black
Director: Gus Van Sant
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: John Callahan has a lust for life, a talent for off-color jokes, and a drinking problem. When an all-night bender ends in a catastrophic car accident, the last thing he intends to do is give up drinking. But when he reluctantly enters treatment -with encouragement from his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and a charismatic sponsor (Jonah Hill) -Callahan discovers a gift for drawing edgy, irreverent newspaper cartoons that develop an international following and grant him a new lease on life. Based on a true story, this poignant, insightful and often funny drama about the healing power of art is adapted from Callahan’s autobiography and directed by two-time Oscar (R) nominee Gus Van Sant. Jack Black, Carrie Brownstein, Beth Ditto and Kim Gordon also star.
Gus Van Sant has built his entire career on making us empathize with the main characters of his films and then using his trademark artistic directing to help prove his point. This tends to be very hit or miss, as he has gone from directing one of my favorite movies of all time, Good Will Hunting, but then also decided that we needed to see a shot-for-shot remake Psycho, so you never really know what you are going to get with Van Sant. Fortunately for us, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot has been one of Van Sant’s strongest films in years. Filled with beautiful editing, cinematography, and directing, and powered by a captivating performance by Phoenix, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot tells a complicated story from Van Sant’s unique perspective.
The film follows John Callahan (Phoenix), a cartoonist who becomes paralyzed from the chest down after getting into a car crash during a night of heavy drinking. Not only does he have to deal with the struggle of learning how to go through life in a wheelchair, but now also deal with the struggle of maintaining his newfound sobriety. While he has a support system of people like his sponsor Donnie (Hill) and his girlfriend Annu (Mara), John has to come to terms with his life and face the demons that caused him to drink in the first place. One of the first things you can notice about this film is that many of the theatrical elements appeal to those who like artistic and creative films more than concise and non-interpretative ones. There are a couple of editing sequences that show the passing of time through scenes moving across the screen either from side-to-side or from top to bottom. There are also moments of animated transitions of John’s drawings and how they relate to the plot and John’s character development. Outside of the transitions, during any of the group session scenes the camerawork feels much more natural and looks as if it is being shot as a documentary. These elements combined with a cool jazz score truly capture the independent nature about the characters as well as how the film was made. Adding to these offscreen elements is a fantastic performance by Phoenix. Phoenix has to balance a performance that is both emotional yet funny due to Callahan’s complex situation and Phoenix nails the balance between the two. Hill is also strong in his supporting role, specifically during his last scene in the movie. His character is an interesting foil for Callahan and provides a person that both cares for him as well as challenges him, and an actor like Hill who thrives in a supporting dramatic role was an excellent choice for the film.
The story is where the film ends up on the weaker side of things. While the framing of the story is absolutely unique, it is a pretty typical story about personal recovery. I never felt as if there was a time where I did not see the way the story was going and while this may be the true story of John Callahan, it makes for a movie that comes with its sluggish pacing. One of the things I wish we saw more of was the relationship between Callahan and Annu. We only saw them have a positive relationship, but realistically no relationship exists without some sort of conflict. I am not sure if she was in the film solely to show a character that would love Callahan unconditionally, but realistically it wastes a talented actress like Mara when she is never really given any material that challenges her. Combining all of these things with some symbolism that went over my head take away from a film that as a whole is an incredibly well-constructed movie.
Overall, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot has its issues, but it is still on the upper end of Van Sant’s filmography, which is not exactly an easy thing to do. I feel as though I may need to watch this film again to get a better understanding as to why certain things were done and why other elements were included, but after one viewing it is still an enjoyable film. With the amount of firepower associated with this movie, this could have been one of the best movies of 2018. While the film is not perfect, it is certainly enjoyable and a fresh change of pace from many of the other movies coming out during the summer movie season.
Overall Score: 7/10