Movies about popular public figures are a dime a dozen. Some can be thrown away with nothing to offer, while others tell the story of the individual and send a message home to the viewer at the same time. It’s this fine line that only the best biographical films can walk. Director Gus Van Sant tries to walk this line in his latest theatrical venture, and while he stumbles a bit along the way, it’s a film that sends a warm message to all. Let’s take a deeper look in our Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot review.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot covers the adult life of Portland-based cartoonist, John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix). After a drunk-driving accident at the age of 21 that left Callahan as a quadriplegic, he found a love for art that led him to a career as a controversial cartoonist. Many of Callahan’s cartoons were dubbed as politically incorrect, but he made his mark on the world and brought attention to issues that otherwise might have flown under the radar.
The first half of the film jumps around quite a bit between Callahan’s early 20s and his later years. There’s very little indication of what year it is as the film jumps around, which leaves the audience wondering where they’re at in Callahan’s life. The movie will jump from moments before the accident, to Callahan’s public speaking much later in his life, then go back in time to his battle with alcoholism. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out where the film is at, but in many instances, it’s difficult to know where to place the events unfolding on-screen.
Toward the latter half of the film, things stop jumping around as much and it’s significantly easier to follow. It’s at this point that the film really starts to shine. The audience is familiar with Callahan and cares about the character. We see everything he’s gone through in life, from the accident to his battle with alcohol, to his struggles living as a quadriplegic. Callahan was a pain to deal with, especially while he was drinking, but the performance by Joaquin Phoenix is so nuanced, you feel Callahan’s struggles and even relate to them in some cases.
Two of the most important people in Callahan’s life was his AA sponsor, Donnie (Jonah Hill), and his long-time girlfriend, Annu (Rooney Mara). Both are played exceptionally well in the film, with Hill completely embodying a 1970s era gay millionaire. He doesn’t overplay the role, he’s exactly what you’d expect from someone who doesn’t live a normal 9-5 life, and might be a little crazy, but has everything together just enough to gracefully mentor people going through the 12 steps.
You don’t see much of Annu, but Mara commands the screen every time she makes an appearance. Annu handles Callahan with a calming touch when they first meet. As the relationship develops, she continues to be Callahan’s rock but never goes over the top. She lets Callahan be the person he is while supplementing his life in so many ways.
Once you get through the rough first half of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, you’re left with an emotional film that sets a new bar for biographical movies. It’s a shame that the first half of the movie doesn’t match the stellar quality of the second half, but there’s still a lot to like about Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. If you can get past the bewilderment of the first 45 minutes, the remaining hour is well worth the price of admission.
About Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Synopsis: On the rocky path to sobriety after a life-changing accident, John Callahan discovers the healing power of art, willing his injured hands into drawing hilarious, often controversial cartoons, which bring him a new lease on life.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: John Callahan, Gus Van Sant, Jack Gibson, William Andrew Eatman
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara
Runtime: 1 Hour, 53 Minutes