Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Premise: Based on a true story. After a traffic accident John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) loses the ability to walk and must confront his addiction to alcohol. He discovers a talent for drawing cartoons while working with Alcoholics Anonymous.
What Works: As its title implies, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot has a wry sense of humor and the movie punches up its addiction narrative with moments of comedy. John Callahan’s cartoons had an irreverent and absurd comic touch that stemmed from the challenges of being bound to a wheel chair and coping with alcoholism and the movie effectively connects the artist with his work. The greatest asset of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is the cast and the movie is full of terrific performances. The film is led by Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan. Phoenix embodies the comedy and the tragedy of this man, sometimes in the same moment, and his performance avoids the exploitative pitfalls that sometimes befall movies about people with physical disabilities. The cast also includes Jonah Hill as Callahan’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and Jack Black and Beth Ditto as fellow alcoholics. Hill provides a much more nuanced performance than we’ve seen from him before and Black demonstrates considerable range between moments of alcoholic bliss and sober regret. Especially impressive is Beth Ditto who makes an impression in just a handful of scenes.
What Doesn’t: While most of the cast are given great parts or make small roles into something, the talents of Rooney Mara are mostly wasted in this film. Mara is cast as the physical therapist who becomes Callahan’s girlfriend and she’s never anything more than a doting love interest. She doesn’t have enough meaningful moments with Phoenix and their love story lacks any passion. That’s indicative of the biggest weakness of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. The movie is emotionally flat. Once Callahan is wheelchair ridden he quickly adjusts to life with a disability and starts attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and stabilizes his drinking. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a mostly routine addiction and recovery story but it doesn’t even have the dramatic ups and downs usually associated with this kind of film. The movie lacks any sense of struggle with addiction nor does it explore Callahan’s transition to life in a wheelchair and what that might have done for his perspective or personality. The dramatic failures of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot are partly due to its structure. The story is told out of sequence. There is no apparent logic to the organization of the narrative and it’s a seemingly random collection of events. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot also plays as a feature length advertisement for Alcoholics Anonymous. The movie takes the organization’s methods and ideology at face value. It never questions them despite the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous’ effectiveness has been repeatedly questioned. The movie oversimplifies the recovery process and saps it of its drama.
Bottom Line: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot has some exceptional performances but it isn’t a very satisfying drama. The movie falls short as an addiction and recovery story and it’s too emotionally staid to be involving or impactful.
Episode: #711 (August 12, 2018)