Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black, Tony Greenhand, Beth Ditto, Mark Webber, Ronnie Adrian, Kim Gordon, Udo Kier, Carrie Brownstein
Written by: Gus Van Sant, based on a story by John Callahan, Gus Van Sant, Jack Gibson, William Andrew Eatman, and on a book by John Callahan
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual content, some nudity and alcohol abuse
Running Time: 113
Date: 07/13/2018

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

No More Mr. Nice Gimp

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Gus Van Sant takes a dizzying approach to this biopic, using shifting timelines and an anarchic tone to tell Callahan's story, though supporting players like Jack Black and Jonah Hill come out sharpest.

In Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) recounts his life story. He was abandoned by his mother, raised as an orphan, and began drinking at age 13. He becomes a full-fledged alcoholic, caring more about his next drink than anything else. At a party, he meets Dexter (Black), who promises to take him to an even better party; instead they drive drunk and have an accident that leaves Callahan a quadriplegic, with limited movement in his arms.

In the hospital, he meets physical therapist Annu (Rooney Mara), who helps him find his way, and then an AA sponsor, Donnie (Hill), who teaches him about the Twelve Steps. To express himself, Callahan begins drawing edgy and sometimes near-blasphemous cartoons, and to his delight they begin being published. But sobriety and success mean nothing unless Callahan can identify the source of his pain.

This kind of material, both alcoholism and the disabled, are usually aimed straight at awards and given a high-minded, noble seriousness, but Van Sant bathes his film in an orange, sun-streamed light, giving it an appealing looseness that's uncharacteristic in his work; even though it has much in common with Van Sant's last biopic, Milk (2008), it's far more rambunctious.

Scenes of Callahan zooming around at top speed in his electric wheelchair — Phoenix's face stoically taking in the breeze — are exhilarating, even if Phoenix himself seems a little too serious for the role. He doesn't seem capable of coming up with Callahan's irreverent cartoons, which Van Sant animates and uses as transitions, and his performance only emphasizes the character's innate selfishness. (Robin Williams, who had been in Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, originally hoped to play the part.)

Mara doesn't have much to do in her role, but both Black and Hill are both miraculous, Black emotionally breaking down and Hill flashing a kind of rock-star confidence in his eyes. Rock stars Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney) co-star.

The Blu-ray release from Lionsgate (it's also an Amazon Prime original), features very strong sound, and a fine transfer of Van Sant's grubby-looking film. The only extras are two short featurettes, a digital copy, and a batch of trailers at startup.

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