I'm all on board for the Jack Black renaissance.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, a film with a title that’s even longer than it’s runtime, is a new Gus Van Sant movie that’s subtly making it’s way into theaters — an odd time for it to do so, as August typically isn’t known as a great landing spot for awards consideration and this film clearly wants all of it.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is based on an autobiography of the same name, telling the life and struggles of John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix).
Don’t feel bad if you don’t immediately recognize that name, because I didn’t know who he was either until the promo material for Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot started coming out.
Callahan is best known for his cartoon drawings, which caught national attention in the 1980s due to their controversial and somewhat edgy humor.
That’s really not what Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is about, though. I mean, it’s still in there during the second half of the movie and serves a purpose to the overall story, but the film really focuses its attention elsewhere for the most part.
Callahan started drinking when he was only 13 years old. In his own words, he started at a young age and never really stopped. Part of it is due to the fact that he was abandoned by his mother while he was only a baby, then being adopted into a family who never really understood him, but it’s a burden he’s had to bear for a long, long time.
He was at a party one night when he met Dexter (Black). Dexter, too, was a massive alcoholic and the two quickly hit it off. Despite the fact that the two of them were drunk off their asses, they decide to get in a car, hit the town and see what kind of trouble they can stir up.
That’s when the crash happened.
Dexter drunkenly crashed the vehicle he was driving into a pole on the side of the road while going 90 miles per hour. While he came out of it with only a few scratches, Callahan got it worse. Much, much worse.
The young artist wakes up in a hospital a few weeks later to find that he’s completely paralyzed from the waist down and will never walk again.
His alcoholism doesn’t end there. Except for the spotty assistance from his aid, Tim (Tony Greenhand), and limited help from the disability center’s case-worker, Suzanne (Carrie Brownstein, who I would have sworn was Sally Hawkins while watching the film and, honestly, I’m still not completely convinced that it’s not), Callahan is still alone. Alone and now disabled. In his mind, that’s more than enough reason to stay on the booze.
But deep down, he knows that it’s killing him. Eventually, he grows tired of the whole routine and shows up to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
That’s how he meets Donnie Green (Jonah Hill) — a young AA sponsor who has some demons of his own that he’s trying to outrun.
Green and Callahan get to talking and, soon enough, Green agrees to take him on as one of his ‘piglets’ (which is what he calls sponsors), then helping him work through the 12-step process. Callahan begins making amends and rediscovering his life, as he finds new purpose in his cartoons and friendships.
Gus Van Sant can do dramatic. He can do sentimental and he can do inspiring. Just look at Good Will Hunting.
For the most part, Good Will Hunting is a pretty Oscar-baity movie, as the subject matter is all very melodramatic and is purposefully trying to tug on your heartstrings. And, for the most part, it works in Good Will Hunting because Gus Van Sant overcomes the clichés to make a really smart and sweet movie.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is trying to do something similar, but it just can’t quite get there.
To be fair, the first half of this movie totally hooked me in. The way in which Callahan’s story is presented (Van Sant messes with the timeline a lot, which is a little confusing at first, but ultimately pays off) had my full attention, as Callahan and his mental state was a really interesting case study that I found to be unique and fascinating. Once the accident initially hits, he’s forced to deal with all the issues he’s been trying to put off for so long, and I found that to be really powerful at first.
But then the movie keeps going and turns into a preachy advertisement for Alcoholics Anonymous.
The second half of this movie switches gears, as we get long monologue scenes that take place in AA and a bunch of forced inspiration that comes off being more cliché as anything. There are moments where you can tell the screenplay wants you to shed a tear so badly that they’re willing to use any and every method to get there, even though it doesn’t succeed (at least for me) in the end.
It’s not that including this part of Callahan’s life in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a bad idea, because it’s not. It’s an important part of his life that does have a place in this story. It’s just the way that it’s presented. Callahan’s personality and humor are practically stripped away from him in all these scenes — the cartoons themselves don’t work their way into all of this until the final fifteen minutes — as the film is just so worried that it’s not getting its message across, so it beats you over the head with it.
Joaquin Phoenix gives a great performance, as he always does, which ultimately elevates the material but can’t quite save it (still, between this and You Were Never Really Here, he’s having a great year). Jonah Hill, on the other hand, verges us back into that awards bait category as it seems like he’s gunning for an Oscar in nearly every scene that he’s in.
The rest of the supporting cast is actually pretty great; the only problem is they aren’t in it all that much. Jack Black was my favorite part of the whole movie, as he certainly brings a presence with him when he’s on screen — all ten minutes of it. Granted, those ten minutes certainly leave a lasting impression (especially his final scene), but I wanted more.
The same can be said for Rooney Mara. While her initial appearance is a bit jaunting as she literally comes out of nowhere and immediately has this intense passion for Callahan which nobody ever questions, she stands out in the rest of the limited screen time that she’s given.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot wants you to remember it when awards season comes around. Ironically enough, those are the moments I’m going to remember the least about this movie. Instead, I was drawn much more to the quieter, subtle moments where the script actually gives the actors a moment to relax. There’s some good stuff scattered throughout the movie, but you’ve definitely seen Gus Van Sant do bigger and better things.
Watch the trailer for Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the movie!
“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” review: The title alone is a mouth-full6