The Movie Waffler New Release Review - DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT | The Movie Waffler


Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot review
Biopic of cartoonist John Callahan.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Gus Van Sant

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Mireille Enos

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot poster

There's a scene in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, Gus Van Sant's biopic of cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix), in which an art teacher describes great works of art as "controlled accidents," meaning that the artist set out with a clear intention, but the uniqueness of their creation makes it ultimately an accident. Van Sant's film resembles a controlled accident in another sense. It's a disjointed, narrative jumble that gives the impression the director wrote all his scenes on cards, threw those cards into the air and cut them together in the order they landed. Given the talent involved and the potential for drama in Callahan's story, it's one of the year's most frustrating films.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot review

Previously, Van Sant had tried to get this movie made with Robin Williams in the role, and it's difficult to shake the notion that with his rubber-jawed mugging, Phoenix is impersonating Williams rather than Callahan here. When we see a photo of the real life Callahan at the close of the movie, he doesn't remotely resemble the cross between Williams and Bono that Phoenix seems to be going for.

Phoenix's Callahan is in every scene of this movie, but at the end of its two hours I was still no wiser about Callahan the man, whom I had never previously heard of, than before its opening credits unspooled. This is largely because Van Sant attempts to pack too much detail into the movie, but chiefly because of its non-linear structure, which makes it difficult to get a grasp on what stage of Callahan's life we're witnessing (Phoenix never visibly ages, and he's unconvincing as the twentysomething artist).

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot review

Callahan is introduced as an able-bodied alcoholic. Following a car accident caused by a fellow drunk at the wheel (Jack Black), Callahan becomes a quadriplegic alcoholic. That's pretty much the sum of the characterisation on offer until late in the story when Callahan discovers his talent for drawing offbeat, humorous cartoons, which leads to him being published in major publications.

There's a subplot about Callahan's search for his birth mother (Mireille Enos), which goes nowhere. There's a subplot about his relationship with a Swedish flight attendant (Rooney Mara, butchering a Scandinavian accent once again), which goes nowhere. There's a subplot regarding the debate over whether Callahan's work is offensive or not, which goes nowhere. You get the idea. Had the movie picked one of these strands to focus on, we may have gotten a compelling drama out of Callahan's story.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot review

It's commendable that Van Sant's film never descends into misery porn, with Callahan admitting that he's had a great life. We're never asked to feel sorry for Callahan, and indeed at times he's portrayed as objectively obnoxious. On the other hand, this leads to a lack of conflict, and as a result the movie is dramatically inert. Once Callahan makes peace with his physical situation, which happens relatively early on, he never really faces any challenges, at least none that Van Sant deems worthy of focussing on, and the film ultimately serves as a kind of cinematic humblebrag.

If you're like me and were ignorant of Callahan prior to viewing, you may well find yourself googling his cartoons after watching Don't Worry, so I guess in that sense it's achieved its aim of showcasing the artist's talent. For anyone who is already a fan of the cartoonist, Van Sant's film will be a major disappointment.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot is in UK/ROI cinemas October 26th.

2018 movie reviews