One of the type of films I’ve grown to love seeing over the last couple years are independent movies. They bring us new perspectives and offer us viewpoints we might not have noticed in our everyday life. One of the reasons I wanted to see “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” was because it told the story of John Callahan, a cartoonist and recovering alcoholic. The description of the film interested me and I wanted to see what Joaquin Phoenix could do with the part. Not only does he do an incredible job but the film offers a compelling look at recovery and John Callahan’s life.
The movie is based on John Callahan’s memoir of the same name, with Gus Van Sant writing the screen adaption and directing the film. Joaquin Phoenix plays the title character and follows him as a recently paralyzed alcoholic as he finds a passion for drawing off color newspaper cartoons and walks a path to sobriety. Along the way, he is assisted by Donnie Green (Jonah Hill) as his sponsor and Annu (Rooney Mara) as his girlfriend.
The film begins with John telling his AA group the story of how he becomes paralyzed. He discusses how he woke up drunk, shaking and drank for the entire day, going out to party during the night. He hangs out with a friend, Dexter (Jack Black) and the pair go from one party to the next, getting drunker and drunker, as finally they crash. Dexter walks away, John doesn’t. The rest of the film is him coming to grips with his alcoholism, with support from Donnie and the group, and with his art becoming a way for him to have a voice along with expressing his art and his emotions.
One of the best elements of the film is the use of John’s illustrations and cartoons to help tell the story. Not only do they provide us insight into his character but they also provide lightness in the darker moments of the biopic. The humor is risque and not for everyone. One of the scenes I liked the best was when John says he likes all the reactions he gets, even the negative ones, because they’re honest. The cartoons are meant to provoke thought, to provoke reactions and they do so with humor and wit. The whimsical nature allows us to see just how John copes with his life and his struggles.
Another aspect I liked was the brutal honesty of his alcoholism and his recovery. Nothing is sugar coated and his story does not provide any easy solutions or answers. Everything John struggles with touches a cord of emotion and his path is never easy as he has to figure out why he began drinking and then with support how to continue not drinking. It is easy to see that it is a disease, that the dependence it causes is as much a part of it as the drinking itself. I felt the memoir offers a powerful perspective on alcoholism and recovery. I loved the evolution of John’s recovery and his approach to sobriety.
The acting is incredible. Not only is Joaquin Phoenix immersed in his character, believable, genuine and dynamic but his portrayal of John’s struggles and his path to recovery are the linchpin to the film. But he is not the only performance that was worth watching. Jonah Hill as Donnie was compassionate, wise and always providing insight to John. While it is difficult to know how realistic this is to the real person, it is one of the most compelling performances I’ve seen. I also appreciated Jack Black’s restrained acting and humor. Since the illustrations were the humor element, the director wisely kept Jack’s role tempered with an appropriate level of jokes to fit the character and ultimately, this was an engaging work by Jack Black. Rooney Mara was lovely but I would have liked to have seen more of her character. Her acting was beautiful but her role smaller than expected.
While I did enjoy the movie, there were some elements that faltered. To begin with, the story is not linear in nature. We start with seeing part of how John becomes paralyzed but that tale begins and then moves around, the story jumping from point to point. It was difficult to track just what was happening and when. While it was organic and his story did come across, there were times when I lost the thread of time. This disjointed approach was especially strong in the early parts of the movie as we really get three different beginnings. Eventually, the story moves forward, the cartoons helping me as a viewer to get a better sense of time and the evolution of John’s recovery. I do think the approach also gives a real sense of how disjointed events can be for those recovering from alcoholism and that may have been what led to this cinematic choice.
The pacing was also slow. There were unnecessary points and some parts of the film could have been cut for time. Faster pacing might have also helped the story flow better or if the story had been more linear than the story might have flowed quicker. The characters were still engaging but not every conversation or aspect was necessary to the story.
If you have ever struggled with your life, with any kind of emotional issues, depression, or addiction of any kind, this is a story that would appeal. The progression of John’s life, his path to recovery and his drawings can certainly offer others a perspective they haven’t encountered or aid another on their own path. While it is slower, the characters are inviting, the acting is impressive and I loved both Joaquin Phoenix and Jonah Hill. Their performances are worthy of the accolades they’ve earned and if you like character films, I would recommend this movie.
Rating: 4 cartoons out of 5.
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