January 20, 2018

ShowbuzzDaily Sundance Film Festival Review: “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”


DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT (Amazon):  Despite some Christopher Nolan-esque splintering of time, Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is one of his more conventional films.  Van Sant wrote the script himself, after years of development (originally, Robin Williams was to be the star) that resulted in story credit being shared with three other writers, one of them being John Callahan, the quadriplegic Oregon cartoonist whose true story this is, and whose memoir provides the source material.

Callahan (ultimately portrayed here by Joaquin Phoenix) had a troubled life that began with his being abandoned by his birth mother and adopted.  He became a barely-functioning alcoholic, a condition that continued even after he got into a car driven by another drunk, Dexter (Jack Black), who slammed the vehicle into a light pole, leaving Callahan in a wheelchair and with limited use of his hands.  Eventually, Callahan found AA, where through the care of his counselor and sponsor Donnie (Jonah Hill), he began to recover from his addiction and found not just inner peace and his calling as a politically incorrect newspaper cartoonist, but true love with the gorgeous Swedish air hostess Annu (Rooney Mara).

Although Callahan’s physical condition is of course a major part of the story, Van Sant’s interest is really in Callahan’s journey to a place of humility and self-knowledge, where Callahan could tame his inner demons and forgive the people in his life and eventually himself.  In other words, it’s not all that dissimilar from other tales of alcoholism and addiction we’ve seen through the years, and although Van Sant brings emotional delicacy to many of its moments, and elicits powerful performances from his cast, he hasn’t found a way to make its arc less predictable.

This is also one of Joaquin Phoenix’s more straightforward roles, and his work doesn’t have the crazy experimentation of The Master or Inherent Vice.  That will please a lot of people who have been put off by his immersive weirdness in recent years, and Phoenix is strongly present in every moment of the film, but it also lacks some of the wild excitement he’s provided in the past.  The transformational performance here is from Jonah Hill, who portrays a mellow gay trust fund child (he calls his higher power “Chuckie”) who has his own tragedies, without ever turning the character into a joke or a schtick.  Jack Black is called upon to do his Jack Black thing in the pre-accident scenes as Dexter, but he’s impressive in his later sequence.  Mara’s character, however accurate she may be to real life, comes across as such an idealized figure that I wasn’t sure for a while whether she might be one of Callahan’s hallucinations.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot has emotional force and its fractured storytelling provides a hint of mystery to Callahan’s life.  Van Sant’s reorganization of the film’s alphabet, though, doesn’t completely obscure the fact that it works its way tidily from A to Z.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."