OTTAWA’S CINEMA FOR INTERNATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT MOVIES

Don't Worry He Won't Get Far On Foot

Gus Van Sant has many modes as a filmmaker, from the avant-garde eeriness of Elephant to the sentimentalism of Milk. In his biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, he gets an endearing performance out of Joaquin Phoenix in depicting the journey of John Callahan from depressed paraplegic alcoholic to revered public artist.

Poster for the John Callahan biopic Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On FootVan Sant, who adapted the screenplay from Callahan’s memoir, makes the cartoonist’s trajectory clear up front. In the opening minutes, the filmmaker cuts between the wheelchair-bound cartoonist recalling his life story in front of an appreciative local audience, and sharing the same recollections at an AA meeting. The connection is clear: There’s nothing phony about this successful man, who transformed his various setbacks into a story of self-empowerment.

In sharing his life story, Callahan recalls how his mother gave him up for adoption at infancy, and the rejection led to a downward spiral of alcoholism in young adulthood. His pattern of self-destruction culminated in one fateful night, shown in flashback, when a drunken Callahan meets another sloshed partier (Jack Black) for a depraved night that culminates in a devastating car crash. Bedridden and virtually alone, Callahan is forced to confront his sorry state.

A series of saviours show up right in time. First there’s Annu (Rooney Mara), a Swedish therapist who seems to embrace Callahan’s vulgar charm unquestioned, eventually becoming his lover. Then comes Donnie, Callahan’s sponsor, who coaches him to sobriety. A recovering alcoholic himself, Donnie’s an exuberant, gay Christian, played by a virtually unrecognizable Jonah Hill.

Van Sant is clearly in love with Callahan’s humanity, and at its best, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot salutes his survival tactics with a smirk. The movie may fall short of deep insights, but its most prominent qualities – scrappy, ephemeral, a little bit lewd – mirror the chief attributes of Callahan’s endearing work.

– Eric Kohn, Indiewire

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