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Based on the autobiography of John Callahan, Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is a structurally and tonally messy feature that contains sparks of poignancy in an otherwise humdrum biopic.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Callahan, a man whose alcoholism was partially responsible for a near-fatal car crash that left him a quadriplegic at age 21. Several years later he decides to join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), sober up and get his life back on track, despite his injuries. He begins drawing to cope with his emotional suffering, and, to his surprise, his doodles become his calling. He begins working for local papers before eventually hitting national periodicals.
Aiding him along the way are his AA sponsor, played wonderfully by Jonah Hill; his caregiver, the mostly silent Tim, played by Tony Greenhand; and his barely present girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara. Van Sant approaches the story with a nonlinear structure, randomly jumping back and forth between the present, in which Callahan is telling his story to his AA group, and the past, in which we witness his downward spiral leading up to the crash, as well as the subsequent struggles after.
Most of the secondary characters only get a small amount of screen time, as they seemingly float in and out of Callahan’s life from scene to scene. Hill’s character of Donny is certainly the most fleshed out, next to Phoenix’s, but his departure is abrupt and less impactful than it should be for such an important and influential figure in Callahan’s life. The same can be said for Mara’s character, Annu, whose relationship with John is hardly explored and remains uncertain throughout the nearly two-hour run time.
Phoenix gives an outstanding performance as Callahan, a broken man who had everything taken from him but who is given a new lease on life after entering the program, learning to forgive himself and those around him and accepting his disability, channeling his frustration and anger into humor in the form of his cartoons. Like the lack of focus on other characters, Van Sant also pulls back from focusing on Callahan’s rise to fame as a cartoonist, instead keeping the narrative framed around Callahan’s alcoholism and road to recovery. This results in many aspects seeming underdeveloped, and although it’s possible the novel was also like this, it doesn’t necessarily translate well to the screen.
The Blu-ray edition of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot contains a barebones set of bonus supplements: two short making-of featurettes (one for a scene that wasn’t even in the film) and the trailers. That’s it. No commentary, no featurettes on the real John Callahan. Thinking that perhaps the commentary track just wasn’t listed on the packaging, I checked the audio settings to only find one audio option. Why create the menu at all if there’s only one thing to select?
Despite admirable performances from Jonah Hill and Joaquin Phoenix, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a mediocre entry in Gus Van Sant’s filmography, something his fans are no doubt used to as of late, and a sad Blu-ray edition that simply isn’t worth a purchase.