Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black,
Gus Van Sant is the textbook definition of a hit-or-miss director. He’s had award-winning hits like “Good Will Hunting” and forgettable snoozefests like “Gerry.” The one thing you can always count on with Van Sant is a challenging film. “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” perhaps the most obnoxious title of the year, is certainly no different. Its pace will challenge the patience of any viewer. However, the subject matter, alcoholism, is a different kind of challenge. This film chronicles cartoonist John Callahan’s struggle with alcohol addiction and recovery. Longtime Van Sant collaborator, Joaquin Phoenix and the director have an obvious personal bond that shows on screen. Jonah Hill also gives one of his better performances as an almost unrecognizable hippy Jesus zealot.
“Maybe life is not supposed to be as meaningful as we think it is,” a recovering addict says in a group meeting. John Callahan (Phoenix) talks about the last day he had the use of his legs, before too many stupid moments under the influence of the bottle landed him in a wheelchair. Callahan is working through the twelve-step recovery process with Donnie (Hill), a wealthy young recovering addict himself who is now a sponsor. Through the process, Callahan learns to forgive those around him, the person responsible for the accident, and his mother who abandoned him as a child. In the process of healing, Callahan begins to draw and sketch cartoons that end up on the pages of high profile newspapers, creating a sustainable career.
Jonah Hill also gives one of his better performances as an almost unrecognizable hippy Jesus zealot.
The first hour of this film will keep the viewer waiting on a narrative point that doesn’t arrive until midway into the movie. Characters seem to come in and out of the story without getting enough time on screen or depth in the script to be substantial. The non-linear narrative will drive some viewers mad, as Van Sant skips around from past to present with therapy sessions interwoven in between. Eventually, there is an epiphany that occurs, presented in scrolling images down the screen. The story is set in the 1970s, and some of the editing seems to be from the 70s too. Van Sant has always been a fan of mixed media and uses any and all at his disposal here.
The final act of the film is something that might greatly benefit anyone with an addiction of any kind. It turns out, “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is more of a love letter to survival. We have seen Phoenix play something similar to Callahan before, although this might be his most unattractive performance to date. It is Hill however that steals the show in its final moments, pouring his heart out in the bleakest way imaginable. “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is a difficult film to endure. Though Van Sant does conclude with a powerful message, corralling everything together at the end does not a good movie make. Audiences won’t stick around for a movie that runs for an hour before they can get into it, and that’s where this flick fails.
Van Sant’s latest collaboration with Phoenix will try the patience of general audiences.