Few independent films in 2018 can boast the type of A-list cast that Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot has. In teaming back up with star Joaquin Phoenix for a look at the life of cartoonist John Callahan, filmmaker Gus Van Sant has also brought in Jonah Hill and Rooney Mara for central roles. Usually, indies don’t pull stars like this. Then again, few movies in general are like this one. Back at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, some thought they were seeing an Academy Award hopeful here. Others? Not so much. This week, the picture finally opens, so you’ll be able to see for yourself.
This flick is biopic, albeit a bit of an unusual one. IMDb explains it as such: “After Portland slacker John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) nearly loses his life in a car accident, the last thing he intends to do is give up drinking. But when he reluctantly enters treatment – with encouragement from his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and a charismatic sponsor (Jonah Hill) – Callahan discovers a gift for drawing edgy, irreverent newspaper cartoons that develop a national following and grant him a new lease on life. Based on a true story, this poignant, insightful and often funny drama about the healing power of art is adapted from Callahan’s autobiography and directed by two-time Oscar® nominee Gus Van Sant. Jack Black, Carrie Brownstein, Beth Ditto and Kim Gordon also star.” For a more concise synopsis, they also have: “On the rocky path to sobriety after a life-changing accident, John Callahan discovers the healing power of art, willing his injured hands into drawing hilarious, often controversial cartoons, which bring him a new lease on life.” Phoenix plays the late Callahan, again disappearing into a role. Along with Hill’s sponsor and Mara’s girlfriend characters, the paralyzed cartoonist fights to see his work recognized, as well as eventually give up drinking. Van Sant co-writes with Callahan (his memoir is what this is an adaptation of), Jack Gibson, and William Andrew Eatman, as well as directs. In addition to the above mentioned co-stars Jack Black, Carrie Brownstein, Beth Ditto, and Kim Gordon, the likes of Tony Greenhand, Duo Kier, and Mark Webber also show up. Cinematrograpvghy is by Christopher Blauvelt, while the score comes from Danny Elfman.
Honestly, I didn’t love this movie, but I appreciate its existence. Phoenix is very good here, while Hill has another strong supporting turn to add to his resume. The screenplay however, it just never came together for me. That and the pacing is glacially slow. Van Sant never fully brings forth why this story needed to be told. Individual moments are hugely effective, but too often, it spins its proverbial wheels. It’s quirky and amusing at times, but it’s a bit of a disappointment to me. Some loved it back at Sundance, while others were left shaking their heads. Unfortunately, I’m closer to the latter camp with this one.
Here is how I would rank Van Sant’s films to date:
14. The Sea of Trees
11. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
10. Last Days
9. Paranoid Park
7. To Die For
6. My Own Private Idaho
5. Promised Land
3. Finding Forrester
1. Good Will Hunting
On Friday, fans of anyone involved here can see them try something a little bit different when Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot hits theaters. Phoenix is fully committed to the challenging role, so that’s something to cling to here. As for Van Sant, it’s closer to some of his more lacking for hire work, even if this is clearly a passion project for him. Still, he’s one of the harder to pin down directors in the business, so we should remain intrigued by anything he does. Give this one a shot if you’re not sure whether you’ll agree with me here or not. It’s worth considering, at least…
Be sure (if you’re curious) to check out Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, opening in limited release starting this weekend!