Gus Van Sant and Joaquim Phoenix reteam after 1995’s To Die For in this true-life tale of controversial Portland, Oregon cartoonist John Callahan which is a little tangled, clichéd, but oddly resonant.
The mouthful Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot co-stars Jack Black, Jonah Hill, and Rooney Mara with the writer/director tackling a lot in a ‘limited’ biopic in juggling many a timeline. When you consider alcoholism, abandonment, self-destructiveness, the 12-Step AA program, and his vocation with an acrid sense of humor intact.
The narrative compels when John goes to the meetings and recollects his misfortune to flamboyant gay sponsor Donnie, a fine Hill of War Dogs and The Wolf of Wall Street. As well as “piglets” as played by Kim Gordon, Mark Webber, Udo Kier and a terrific Beth Ditto who aren’t any kind of stereotypical folks in these scenarios. There’s a boost from these scenes to further explore Callahan even if Van Sant probably elaborates more than necessary.
Like the outstanding American Splendor Callahan’s artistry is notably interspersed into his life to signify the many vicissitudes. A recklessness for sure is evident in this quadriplegic alcoholic who suffered a life-changing accident with pal Dexter (Black, effective in a smaller role). Mara’s Annu, a flight attendant, is more of an elusive presence who visits John and instantly has an intimate bond with him.
Despite an unwieldy quality in the overall presentation, a deep appreciation of a goofy drunkard racing around in a wheelchair who would confront his woes, absorbed in dealing with a past that would have an otherworldly impression in finally moving forward from the lurid to divisiveness that would be a certain calling card.
Phoenix (Her, You Were Never Really Here) is truly committed to the filmmaker’s vision, carving out quite an arc to Callahan, thus developing quite an empathetic quality. And, Hill is easily a more than solid supporting counterpart, modulating Donnie to much emotional effect than any ill-advised shrillness to spice up the story. Perhaps in Don’t Worry Van Sant doesn’t realize the extent of espousing his subject, but On Foot may get further than expected with viewers into the reverence enough so where a tear or two may be shed.