Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot review: Joaquin Phoenix stars in a sloppily structured memoir

This adaptation of cartoonist John Callahan’s 1989 memoir is a sloppily-structured oddity

Kaleem Aftab
Tuesday 20 February 2018 15:50
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Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot -trailer

Gus Van Sant has adapted cartoonist John Callahan’s 1989 memoir Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot with Joaquin Phoenix playing the disabled alcoholic. Most of the action takes place at a time when President Jimmy Carter was on the news and several years after a drunk Callahan was involved in the car accident that would change his life.

There are a myriad of issues that Van Sant touches upon in the script that he himself has adapted, including the problem of accessibility for the disabled, misogyny in Portland, Oregon and the controversy Callahan created with his drawings, but these topics remain on the periphery as the drama is mostly occupied with Callahan successfully using Alcoholic Anonymous and the 12-step programme to put his life back on track.

The sloppy structure has two expositional narrative devices to which we continually return: the first is an inspiration on-stage talk delivered by Callahan about his life and works and the second are several alcoholics meetings and sessions with his sponsor (Jonah Hill, the best thing in the movie).

When the crash occurred in 1972 Callahan was 21 and not even with a very modern interpretation of a youthful 1970s haircut can make Phoenix look that young, which then makes it seem odder when Callahan lands a job drawing for the university newspaper. If only this was the film's biggest problem.

That much is made out of Callahan being adopted and wanting to find his biological mother makes it even stranger when Van Sant shows little interest in exploring the relationship between Callahan and his girlfriend Annu (Rooney Mara) who is made up to look like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. She’s a hospital therapist who takes a shine to Callahan, which we know because she keeps telling him how handsome he is.

The depiction of Annu then veers to trophy girlfriend territory as she gets a job at Air Scandinavia, which enables Van Sant to put her in a flight uniform but still not give her any lines of dialogue that show depth, intelligence or struggle. Mara is an actress who deserves far more than to be arm candy.

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The best moments are those that showcase Callahan’s work. These drawings are complicated, erudite and politically incorrect and are displayed both as pictures on screen through the presentation and as animated sequences.

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