“Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot” isn’t as much about the story of John Callahan, the Portland based quadriplegic who became a famous, if controversial cartoonist after a car accident, as it is about his personal journey.
The film starts at the end, beginning after the accident and backing up into Callahan’s story of misfortune, self-discovery, and redemption. Our first glimpse of Joaquin Phoenix as the cartoonist comes at a settled place in his life. From there director Gus Van Sant moves along the timeline of Callahan’s life. We see him on the bender that resulted in the car accident that left him in a wheelchair, his treatment,
Alcoholic’s Anonymous meetings presided over by sponsor Donnie (Jonah Hill) and at home with his helper (Tony Greenhand).
It’s fragmented approach that focuses on the themes in Callahan’s life rather than the events. His journey is a metaphysical one, from unhappy, aimless slacker to someone who embraces community. Van Sant and Phoenix explore the artist’s psyche, detailing how being put up for adoption at birth fuelled his alcoholism and unresolved feelings of abandonment. Phoenix, limited in his movement for much of the film, hands in a rich performance, both volatile and vulnerable.
He’s aided by a talented supporting cast lead by Hill. He’s tough love personified, a tell-it-like it is A.A. sponsor who calls his charges Piglets. The meetings at his home are a whose who of interesting casting from Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon as a Valium addict with a propensity of getting naked in public, Udo Kier and musician Beth Ditto’s unrestrained presence steals every scene she is in. Jack Black, in a small but pivotal role, gets to showcase both his gonzo and sensitive sides.
John Callahan is best known for his macabre drawings but the film of his life ois anything but. “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is a breezy, life affirming look at a man whose misfortune was his salvation.