Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2018
Directed by
Gus Van Sant
114 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

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

Synopsis: The real-life story of John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix), a 21 year old slacker and alcoholic from Portland, Oregon who after becoming quadriplegic in a car accident in 1972 goes to rehab and discovers a new lease of life as a non-PC cartoonist.

Alcoholics Anonymous’s Twelve Point Program is not the kind of material one would immediately think should be made into a film but that is the spine (so to speak) of Gus Van Sant's understated Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot.

Despite its title it is not the film for anyone wanting some action/comedy although there are brief touches of both in the way that its subject, John Callahan, zooms through the streets in his motorized wheelchair, heedless of traffic and personal safety. Rather it is a story, not of redemption, for that is too corny to describe Van Sant’s steady, non-didactic approach, but recovery from alcohol addiction, a story that is both serious (Callahan spent his life from the age of twenty-one in a wheelchair and died in 2010 as a result of complications from his quadriplegia) and steeped in wry humour (how else to survive a catastrophe?). Van Sant, who wrote the screenplay based on Callahan’s 1989 memoir, cannily starts the story showing us a happy Callahan speaking to an audience about his journey to recovery and the emphasis of the film which occurs in flashback remains on the affirmative, and how and where to find it, rather than the obvious downside which would have headed the film towards the afflicted zone.

Aside from Van Sant's solid work as both the writer and director, the film also works so well because of Joaquin Phoenix’s lead performance. It’s not as showy as his recent tour-de-force in You Were Never Really Here (2017) but despite the role’s physical constraints Phoenix convinces us of the real desperation, the self-pity and its overcoming without resorting to histrionics or triumphalism (it is probably for the best that Robin Williams, who first brought the project to Van Sant after they did Good Will Hunting together in 1997, did not get to play the lead as he intended). Not that his performance is in the same league as that of Daniel Day-Lewis's in My Left Foot (1989), then again his his affliction was not so debilitating. As his rich, gay, and committed AA mentor Donnie, Jonah Hill behind bushy beard and long hippie locks gives what is easily the best post-Superbad (2007) turn of his career and his interactions with Phoenix are the highlights of the film. When Donnie says to Callahan words to the effect of "it's hard to teach faith" we feel that in some ways he is voicing the director's own purpose in making this film. Jack Black’s contribution as Dexter, the driver of the car in which Callahan was injured, is small but effective.

There are some odd aspects, to whit, Rooney Mara (who appeared earlier this year with Phoenix in Mary Magdalene) as a sometime Swedish volunteer therapist and sometime airline stewardess (presumably there were no symbolic meaing intended) who becomes Callahan’s girlfriend and a scene of Callahan performing cunnilingus (of which Dexter has claimed to be King) on a spunky nurse. Particularly given that the film runs for nearly two hours we could have done without either of these. And from an authenticity point of view, Phoenix is twenty years too old for the part although that disparity doesn't really impinge as this is not so much a biopic as an embodiment of a journey of self-discovery.

Quibbles aside Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot is a quietly encouraging film about the very human messes people get themselves into and how (hopefully) they get out of them. At a time when every second film released is about superheroes it makes for a refreshingly down-to-earth change of pace from which few will not benefit.  

FYI: With his Portland setting here Van Sant is returning to the city that gave him his start with films such as Mala Noche (1985) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989).




Want something different?

random vintage best worst