Director Gus Van Sant brings the not-so-inspirational true story of quadriplegic off-color cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) to life in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” Callahan lived his life with a severe drinking problem and after an all-night alcohol fueled bender, he was permanently injured in a catastrophic car accident. After enrolling in Alcohol Anonymous for treatment, the man began drawing crude, irreverent newspaper cartoons that brought him newfound fame. The film lacks a deeper insight into the healing power of art and instead feels too thin to do justice to the man (who is already an unlikable and unsympathetic character to begin with).
The performances from the cast are all-around terrific if showy, with an electric chemistry and near genius casting. Jack Black adds unpleasant comic relief and tones down Phoenix’s showy performance (you’ll never forget that he’s acting). The real star of the film is Jonah Hill, who brings a surprisingly nuanced, touching take on Callahan’s AA sponsor, Donnie.
This is a story about addiction but also about disability, with an off-putting reliance on long, dreary monologues and a hand-off approach to getting to know what makes the main character tick. Parts of the film are interesting with bits of dark humor, but overall it feels like a stodgy biopic that’s loaded with a laundry list of facts. Callahan’s career as a crude cartoonist is where the real interesting stuff lies; too bad it’s only touched on briefly in favor of reminding audiences of AA’s 12 step program.
I’m glad an organization like this exists and it’s wonderful how many troubled people are able to find meaning in its teachings, but this film feels like a long commercial for AA that isn’t relatable to those who aren’t suffering with addiction. It isn’t cruel but it isn’t eye-opening in its sensitivity either. Perhaps if you or someone close to you lives or has lived with a drinking problem, this movie would speak to you on a deeper level. A successful biopic would’ve been able to make these conflicts understandable to everyone.