Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018)
Critic Consensus: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot avoids inspirational biopic clichés thanks to sensitive work from writer-director Gus Van Sant and the admirable efforts of a well-chosen cast.
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Critic Reviews for Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot
Gus Van Sant's biopic about a self-made artist brims with hard-won wisdom and terrific performances from unlikely actors.
Can one wan directing job mute the sheer performance power of Joaquin Phoenix? The answer, of course, is no. Not this time, at least.
The film sings with creativity and a feel-good '70s vibe and some fantastic dark humor.
Cartoonist John Callahan is given an appropriately unorthodox remembrance in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, an off-kilter biopic about an off-kilter guy.
Leave it to filmmaker Gus Van Sant to make a film about a hopeless drunk who becomes a quadriplegic into a story that's funny, dark, sad, sweet and even sort of inspirational.
Audience Reviews for Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot
This succeeds in spelling out what life is like for, and around, an alcoholic, and a person with quadriplegia - in this case, the one man is both. It also delivers strong messages about drink driving, the morals of making the wrong assumptions, and about how people treat one another in profound circumstances. It is a story of triumph over adversity. As cinema, it is less engaging. The title is more humorous than the film. Phoenix is less interesting than in say Inherent Vice. The screenplay repeats numerous, and ultimately voyeuristic, examples of the physical problems. It aims for a graphic naturalism, but the dialogue is forced. Sometimes it is inaudible. The direction is monotonous; the editing is padded. We get the standard formula, of a flawed man who lands intimacy with improbably ideal women. Yes, it is a vote for recognising that people with disability have a love life. But here, the women are little more than objects; how many blank, glossy-mag close-ups of Mara did it need? Compare Coming Home, where Fonda was presented unglamorously, with a powerful, complex role in the story. The AA members provide caricatured interest. The screenplay could instead have opted for deeper wit and characterisations in these roles. Even the inner path from tragically hapless drunk, to successful creative artist and human being, is written simplistically. He starts drawing, someone publishes him, and then he is away. What happened within him, to bring about that change? In this show, alcoholism and disability are the main ingredients for a low kind of humour, and it misses the opportunity to do justice to the full story and the people in it.
Inherent Vice now has an alcoholic little brother. Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot is Gus Van Sant's first decent movie in a decade, and it's not in the least bit because of poor casting. Joaquin Phoenix plays cartoonist John Callahan, a quadriplegic struggling with alcoholism before and after the accident that resigned him to a wheelchair. He's aided in his 12 Step program by a very slim Jonah Hill, a rich gay hippie. By late seventies period piece law, Hill's character, of course, has AIDS. Also, we know it's the seventies because Jimmy Carter is on the TV, and everyone has long hair. With the presence of Rooney Mara as a Swedish physical therapist/flight attendant and then Jack Black, you'd think it was a comedy. The contrast between Phoenix' wheelchair-bound slapstick, the gallows humor, and the horrid struggle of quadriplegia brought about by years of depression and alcohol abuse makes for a lot of tonal dysphoria. Yet somehow the beauty of life wins out in the end. I'm not really sure what the clunky time jumping in the first hour was about, maybe a botched framing device, but it does confuse you into being intrigued about what comes next. Granted, I knew nothing about the film going in, so even if it weren't based on the true life of Callahan I still found it a very effective exploration of what drives a person to drink. For as poor as some of the decisions made in the making of the film are, it ultimately accomplishes what it sets out to do. From what I've read, Robin Williams had tapped Van Sant to direct this with, I'm assuming, the intent to play the role of Callahan. I know that this is all before and outside what we are presented, but it certainly feels like the movie was intended as a light in the darkness for anyone who is struggling with addiction and depression. We are living in a world that beats us down on a regular basis. Even those we love don't always know what we're going through, and with the ubiquity and normalization of booze culture in America, it's easier to treat the symptoms and not the disease. We can all still learn to forgive and work towards finding a greater purpose.
ANGRILY WE ROLL ALONG - My Review of DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT (4 Stars) There's no reason why DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT should work as a movie. Based on the memoirs of John Callahan, a Portland-based, paraplegic alcoholic who takes a long 1970s-80s journey to find his voice as an irreverent cartoon artist, Gus Van Sant's film took over twenty years to make it to the screen. Originally set to star Robin Williams, it took his passing away as well as Callahan's before it could get made, and on the surface, it may come across like a conventional 12 Step, AA public service announcement. But, the devil's in the details, and, to me, this movie is an emotionally connected triumph. Maybe we've seen this all before, but not in this way. Gus Van Sant, working in full Hal Ashby mode for this one, keeps the camera alive, dapples his imagery in sun-baked splendor, and makes a collage out of the various timelines to bring a tremendous amount of heart to what could have easily been so bland. Joaquin Phoenix, back for the first time with Van Sant since his stunning performance in 1995's TO DIE FOR, plays Callahan with deep wells of wide-open charm as well as pain. Phoenix, who tends to navel gaze with his method acting at times, is still clearly using that acting approach here, but he's operating in warmth mode much like his performance in HER, except with a vulnerable connection to Callahan's anger. We first meet him at a type of AA meeting where he meets a core group of his fellow alcoholics. Among them we meet Udo Kier, Kim Gordon (Yes - of the band Sonic Youth), and most impressively, Beth Ditto (lead singer of The Gossip) in her film debut. Ditto makes quite an impression with her few scenes, vividly depicting a woman with her own struggles who won't tolerate Callahan's moping. They're presided over by their sponsor Donnie (Jonah Hill), a gay, long-haired hippie type who comes from a wealthy family and spouts AA aphorisms non-stop. It's the type of dialogue which would get old in anybody else's hands, but Hill has figured out a way to make his dialogue seem so intimate and true. Mark my words, he's likely to garner his third Oscar nomination with his incredible work in this film, reducing me to crying sobs late in the film. Same goes for Jack Black. Somewhere in this fractured storytelling, we learn how Callahan ended up in his wheelchair, and that road leads us to Dexter, a hard-partying comrade Callahan meets one night. Their bender alters the course of Callahan's life, with Black in full gonzo mode. It's his stunning work later in the film which got me right in the gut in a way Black has never had the opportunity to do. It's magnificent and unforgettable. Van Sant mixes media a lot in this film, allowing Callahan's cartoons to spring to life, eliciting huge laughs with their off-beat, off-color observations. They are the key to understanding Callahan, acting as an invitation to get on his wavelength or miss out on all the fun. He's a man who loves to banter with people, and when he meets his tribe, it's on. He has wonderful chemistry with almost every actor in the cast, including a group of skateboarders he encounters on his dangerous zips around town on his chair. Callahan treats his wheelchair as if it were a bowling ball, barreling down sidewalks and into traffic without hesitation. One minor misstep involves Rooney Mara as Annu, a Swedish therapy volunteer at his Recovery Center who eventually becomes a Flight Attendant and develops a romantic relationship with Callahan. The role feels tacked on to give us a love interest, but Mara has precious little to work with and doesn't rise above a cool, peaceful vibe. Another oddity is seeing Heather Matarazzo appear as a receptionist at an Adoption Agency. When the camera lingers on her hurt expression during a particularly difficult scene, it seems she will reappear later, but, alas, she doesn't. I would have liked to have seen more of her, as she's been a favorite of mine ever since her debut in WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. Could somebody please put her back in the pantheon of the greats, or do I have to do it myself? Contributing greatly to the film are Danny Elfman, with his uncharacteristically jazzy score, and Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt (Kelly Reichardt's frequent collaborator), who makes the 70s and 80s feel just right. Kudos also to the song choices, with extra credit going to using Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" under Jack Black's big emotional scene. Watching somebody go through the 12 Steps may not sound like an exciting night out at the movies, but they're handled like quiet whispers to Callahan as they gently, lovingly prod him into making different life choices. It makes me appreciate the flowery hippie speak of the era and see it in a different light. Van Sant also creates wonderful images and moments, such as Donnie dancing around his fancy house or Callahan's whispered anguish when he first meets Mara. It's fragmented, and sometimes predictable, but what a gorgeous, mesmerizing tone. Sometimes that's all I need.
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