Noticeably a long, unwieldy title for a movie, DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT comes from the memoirs of the same title by artist John Callahan. Directed by Oscar-nominated Gus Van Sant, who also wrote the screenplay, DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT stars Joaquin Phoenix as Callahan, who following a night of intense alcohol consumption, wakes up in the hospital a quadriplegic.
Callahan is a raging alcoholic. His first mission in the morning, prior to being paralyzed, is to secure another drink to calm his jitters. At parties he ditches women to find a quiet place to drink even more, unnoticed. And on his last night of mobility, he meets Dexter (Jack Black), another heavy imbiber, and the two of them consume more alcohol than seems possible.
But all of this is told in great detail by Callahan, as he doesn't fail to paint a graphic depiction of their total inebriation. Seemingly taking turns driving in their drunken state going from one bar to another, it is Dexter who drives Callahan's VW Beetle into a pole at 90 miles per hour, costing Callahan his freedom.
Relying on a stoner named Tim (Tony Greenhand) as a caretaker --- and continuing to drink --- Callahan's life is spinning, literally, out of control. His constant battles with his case worker, Suzanne (Carrie Brownstein), over broken wheelchairs and finances, plus his obsession with being adopted --- and his mother giving him up --- all culminate in his desire to finally stop drinking.
Attending his first AA meeting brings him into contact with Donnie Green (Jonah Hill), who hosts a small group of fellow alcoholics he calls "piglets" at his opulent home, to which Callahan is invited. It is through the sheer strength of Donnie and these others that enables Callahan to move through the 12 step process and awakens his artistic talent. His once rudimentary drawings blossom into a successful career as a newspaper cartoonist known for his off-color content.
Robin Williams had originally optioned Callahan's book, recruiting Van Sant to adapt it for the silver screen. Finally in November 2016, Phoenix was named to portray Callahan. He has played other memorable characters, but his turn as this brilliant, yet tortured, soul is mesmerizing. Callahan is not an easy person to like, most definitely before he stops drinking.
His barbed sense of humor is exacerbated by the alcohol and once he quits he must learn how to function without that crutch. Phoenix's forte is bringing all of that angst and fervor to the forefront --- and as Callahan, he revels in the chaos of his predicament.
Rooney Mara plays Callahan's girlfriend, Annu, and she and Phoenix have some lovely moments. It's not a huge role, but a pivotal one which Mara takes full advantage of --- showcasing the gentle side of her acting abilities complemented by those gorgeous big eyes,
Though Phoenix could garner an Oscar nod for his exceptional performance, Hill is equally as engaging --- and Academy Award worthy. This role is a departure for Hill, playing a homosexual. Though he does have some very amusing dialogue, Green is a pretty serious character. Much of his humor refers to his extreme wealth and how it came to him. But Hill is deadly straight forward when it comes to Green's protectiveness of his piglets --- and their struggles to stay sober. It's a masterful portrayal by Hill.
When I first saw the trailer for DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT, I had my doubts. As it turns out, Van Sant and his cast and crew have created one of the surprises of the summer. This is not a film focused on despair, but rather a celebration of a life saved and lived to its fullest.
Opinion: See It Now!
Joaquin Phoenix is widely known for taking on unconventional film roles. After all, here's an actor who convinced audiences he was in love with a woman's voice (HER, 2013). However, his portrayal in director Gus Van Sant's latest effort, DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT, is hardly unusual, despite the bizarre title, which is the name of the memoir upon which the movie is based.
The three-time Academy Award nominee plays real-life John Callahan, a nationally known satirical cartoonist, but also an alcoholic who survives a traumatic car crash, He must find the strength and will to resurrect his life while confined to a wheelchair. If this sounds depressing , it is --- initially. But as the story unfolds, it is hard to take your eyes off of Phoenix. His hypnotic performance is one of those signature achievements that Academy voters traditionally love to honor. It's early, but I'm thinking Phoenix may be looking at a fourth Oscar nomination.
Early on, we see Callahan as a hard-drinking womanizer, mostly concerned with satisfying his own needs. After the accident, Callahan manages to earn our sympathy despite his self-inflicted problems, and to Phoenix's credit and Van Sant's writing, we actually develop a strong liking for this guy. When a social worker named Annu (Rooney Mara) visits him in his initial hospital days, we see a glint of hope as the pretty young woman compliments him on his good looks. Despite his circumstances, Callahan still flirts with Annu.
As Annu's relationship with Callahan grows into a more serious love interest, complete with physical lovemaking despite his apparent limitations, Mara is both believable and adorable. Her effort here is about as opposite as it can be from the film that put her on the map as a legitimate star. She earned her first Oscar nomination in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOOO (2011).
Phoenix has plenty of excellent acting company in this dialogue driven drama. His chief co-star, Jonah Hill, plays Donnie Green, an alcoholic himself who is also the leader of an AA group, and sponsor to Callahan. Hill easily renders his best performance since his Oscar-nominated turn in MONEYBALL (2011). His character is firm, yet caring, when dealing with the self-proclaimed alcoholics in the group. In Hill's capable hands, Donnie is also quite susceptible to falling prey to the innermost doubts about his own issues with liquor. It's a tremendously moving portrayal by Hill.
And then there is Jack Black. The veteran actor better known for his comedic roles doesn't have a big part in DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT, but it is a key one that alters Callahan's life forever. As the equally hard-drinking Dexter, Black's portrayal builds to a suspenseful climax we know is coming on the fateful night he and Callahan meet.
Van Sant, also an accomplished screenwriter, has turned in his best script since ELEPHANT (2003). I especially like his treatment of the AA group's individuals. He affords much screen time to them as they each have a tale to weave, or at least a reaction to others in the group, particularly Callahan. The director purposefully doesn't focus all the attention on Callahan, so even in scenes where he doesn't utter a word, it becomes a powerful moment in the story that Van Sant is telling through Callahan about alcoholism.
For the viewer, DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT initially evokes an almost overwhelming sense of dread and helplessness as we witness Callahan in a hospital bed, unable to move anything but his head. But what starts out in a very dark place for characters and moviegoers alike evolves into a deeply engaging story of hope, friendship, empathy and inspiration.
Opinion: See It Now!