Movie Review: ‘DON’T WORRY HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT’ – a sardonic look at sobriety

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

DON’T WORRY HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT

Rated R, 114 min
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Kim Gordon, Jack Black, Rooney Mara

Joaquin Phoenix continues to be in the top tier of actors working today. His presence in a film has the ability to transform tone, space and the overall quality. He pairs himself with directors that possess a vision and, in the process of that, creates a unique language that brings a new layer of humanity.

DON’T WORRY HE WONT GET FAR ON FOOT is a long gestating film directed by Gus Van Sant (GOOD WILL HUNTING, MILK). It’s based on the life of cartoonist John Callahan (Phoenix), who, after drinking himself into oblivion, gets into an auto accident and becomes a quadriplegic. Full of anger due to his physical status and the abandonment issues he’s dealt with since his mother left him at birth, he has become an entitled man who is constantly controlling others because he can’t get a hold on his own life.

Van Sant looks at Callahan and his recovery group, led by Donnie (Jonah Hill), with an empathic eye of damaged individuals. However, in this film, it’s not about judging your peers; its about relinquishing control, which breaks down the scar tissue that has afflicted these people’s ability to empathize. There’s a beautiful and lyrical pacing to it. Van Sant lets the scenes flow through the wind of the narrative with a meditative ire.

Joaquin Phoenix (left) and Jonah Hill (right) in DON’T WORRY HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT (Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Hill gives some of his best work as Donnie, a wise owl of sorts who provides wisdom to Callahan, whom he calls “one of his piglets.” Hill provides Donnie with a soothing vocal affect that can lull you into a catatonic state of bliss.

Along the way, Callahan finds his own voice through subversive cartoons that are crudely drawn, yet elegant and poignant. This true story of Callahan became legend in the Pacific Northwest due to his unmistakable red hair and the brisk pace of his wheelchair. Quite like Phoenix’s portrayal of Callahan, DON’T WORRY is attempting to accomplish too much human growth at one time, which ends up coming across as meandering, even if there are true nuggets of wisdom buried underneath.

Working like a 12-step program, the film’s pacing shows the ebbs and flows of Callahan’s journey through sobriety. He wonders if the pain of abandonment will ever end, to which Donnie says, “some things will never change.” Though DON’T WORRY has the best intentions and creates a portrait of a person who’s utterly fascinating, by the end of the film, the uphill battle of recovery for Callahan’s work seems to fly by without much of its lessons sticking to the viewing experience. 

There is a prescription for tears at work here, with A-list talent involved, yet the end result is ultimately forgettable. 

[Grade: C]

ADDITIONAL NOTES 

  • Say what you want about Gus Van Sant’s filmography, but he’s a filmmaker who constantly is challenging himself, never settling for the easy out.  
  • Rooney Mara was in this movie?
  • The only chance of Awards this has at the end of the year is for Jonah Hill, but even that is unlikely.