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Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot – Movie Review

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Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

John Callahan is one of those cartoonists who seemed to use his simple drawing style to comment on the absurdities of life through sharp-tongued satire. That puts him in a similar league with the likes of Gary Larson and Matt Groening. The events of his life certainly have the potential for an interesting biopic, but Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot feels a bit unfocused in what it chooses to show. One would think the film would have an heavy emphasis on his drawing career and yet that only really takes centre stage about an hour in. Director Gus Van Sant appears to mostly be invested in how he overcame his alcoholism.

The main problem with the film is its repetition. A good amount of time in Don’t Worry is spent on Callahan in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which primarily exist to show his inner turmoil. After a few of these scenes, one just wants to hurry up and get to him picking up his drawing pencil. The film flip-flops between genuine scenes of character building and moments where little of importance is happening. Seeing Callahan attempting to learn how to make due with his situation following a car accident creates the necessary moments of empathy. However, these scenes also begin to go through similar story threads, which ultimately affects the pacing.

There is also a heavy emphasis placed on Callahan’s wealthy sponsor Donnie, who isn’t nearly as compelling or deep as the film thinks he is. It’s disappointing the alcoholism subplot seems to be the main focus over Callahan’s cartooning career and seeing the scenes of him drawing illustrate this. The joy on Callahan’s face nicely showcase what an enriching tool creativity can be. It’s genuinely heartwarming when he begins proudly showing off his work to passers-by, with Van Sant also gaining some humour out of the easily offended. The drawings are also displayed in short pieces of animation that wonderfully capture the offbeat humour of Callahan’s cartoons.

Joaquin Phoenix does succeed at carrying the film, creating a sympathetic portrait of John Callahan and showing his various emotions over the course of the story. Jack Black has a minor role as a fellow alcoholic responsible for the car accident and elevates the few scenes he’s in with his presence. Jonah Hill does what he can with Donnie, despite too much screentime being given to the character. Rooney Mara makes for a nice presence in Callahan’s life as his girlfriend, although the character isn’t developed beyond that role. Due to Van Sant’s approach to the story, it stops before his life gets really exciting.

It appears with a life as vast and as fascinating as John Callahan’s, different people will find specific elements that would appeal to them in a biopic. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot wants to focus on his recovering from alcoholism, while also touching on his relationship with his mother, the cartooning and adapting to living in a wheelchair. The film struggles to juggle all of these elements, while also attempting to develop the various people in his life. One comes away only learning a few things about what led to him drawing his irreverent sketches. Joaquin Phoenix brings the necessary humanity next to the sardonic sense of humour and it’s slightly disappointing his performance is not in a stronger film.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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