Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan and Jonah Hill as Donnie star in DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT. Photo Credit: Scott Patrick Green, Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is carried largely on the heels of actor Joaquin Phoenix.

The new film from writer-director Gus Van Sant tells the story of Portland cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix).  The way the film tells Callahan’s story is alright but it could certainly have been improved.  One moment, we’ll see him addressing a huge crowd.  The next minute, he’s walking or bedridden in a hospital.  I wouldn’t have minded if it was a flashback every now and then but the film is bookended by those talks.

Portland cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) has a way of introducing his mother.  This serves as a running theme throughout the film.  The film doesn’t up-and-get to how Callahan became a cartoonist.  Van Sant’s screenplay takes its sweet time to get there.  What we do know is that Callahan is in a wheelchair.  We quickly learn that this wasn’t always the case.  It comes down to bad decisions on Callahan’s part.  The root of those bad decisions coming from alcohol.  One starts to feel sorry for Callahan because he wasn’t behind the wheel.  No, that was Dexter (Jack Black).  Regardless, neither of them were in a position to be driving.

There’s a lot of time spent on the last day that Callahan walked.  It was an awful day to say the least.  What follows is a substantial amount of time spent on his recovery, not just from the car crash but from an addiction to alcohol.  It’s while recovering at the hospital where Callahan meets future girlfriend Annu (Rooney Mara).  Through the 12-step recovery group run by Donnie (Jonah Hill) that Callahan learns to make amends.  It’s through the recovery process that Callahan decides to draw cartoon sketches.  His cartoons, while controversial, led to a climb in popularity.

While the film shows the powerful effects of an alcohol addiction, it also shows how important art can be in one’s life.  A particular art form is what gives someone the will to keep on living when they don’t have anything else.  John Callahan lost the ability to use his legs.  He could have just given up on his life but he didn’t.  It took some help from the likes of Annu and Donnie, among others in his support circle.

Based on the book by John Callahan, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot nearly starred Robin Williams.  The comedian had optioned the 1989 memoir some 20 years ago for Van Sant to develop and direct.  While Phoenix does a marvelous job as the cartoonist, it’s likely that Williams’ take would be different but also an homage to Christopher Reeve.  Williams gets recognized during the credits for his contribution.

Watching the film led me to examine my own privilege has someone who is able-bodied.  There was a moment in the film where Callahan struggles to open a bottle of wine.  It fell on the floor and I may have been the only person in the screening that laughed.  I immediately regretted the laughter.

While Callahan adapts to living in a wheelchair, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is less about his disability than it is overcoming an alcohol addiction.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Gus Van Sant
CAST:  Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Rooney Mara, Carrie Brownstein, Beth Ditto, Kim Gordon

Following the world premiere at Sundance, Amazon Studios opened Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot in theaters on July 13, 2018 with a theatrical rollout to follow.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

  1. It is would be nice if this review noted the problems with/criticisms of cripping up (able-bodied actors playing disabled characters). From the review, it also sounds like this film is rather heavily influenced by inspiration porn (a form of discrimination against disabled people) and focuses primarily on the origin of his disability (which can be done well, like VAW and/or transition stories, and should be told well, but are primarily not done well and uncritically reproduce limiting and bigoted narratives). Whether this is a decent movie, albeit cripped up and “learning to be disabled from abledbodied friends because no disabled person has disabled friends”, or an exercise in able-bodied people exploiting disabled people for pity, inspiration, money and awards depends a lot on these tropes.

    (Imagine if the character in this was any other underrepresented minority, coming to terms with being that minority in an environment in which they are one of? the only? of their “type”, that was played by and largely conceptualized and shape someone not even a little underrepresented or differently underrepresented. Would it come up that this was the case in underrepresented minorities you either are yourself or empathize more with/know more about? If you can’t ask this, you aren’t yet qualified to write on disability imo.)

    1. Thank you for your comments. I will keep this in mind during the next film in which disability plays a focus. The film focuses more on his alcoholic addiction than anything else.

      I’m trans so I’m underrepresented in TV/Film. It goes without saying that too many cis actors playing trans only perpetuates negative stereotypes about people like me.

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