Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is a surprisingly ordinary biopic given the esoteric creative forces behind it. Gus Van Sant, Joaquin Phoenix and John Callahan all made a name for themselves standing against the tide artistically, but the most striking thing about Don’t Worry is how normal it is – which in itself is a little distracting.
Van Sant plays it fairly straight behind the camera, leaving his principle cast to add flavour with their performances (and wiggy antics). As you would expect, Joaquin Phoenix delivers an excellent turn as Callahan, but the film loses all immersion whenever it reminds you he’s playing a man in his twenties. It’s Phoenix’s film, but Jack Black and Jonah Hill go on the emotional offensive with their smaller roles. Hill is particularly fantastic as Callahan’s sponsor, sauntering in as a 60s playboy beatnik with his own ridiculous hairdo, before going on to hijack the film’s emotional thread as he battles his own demons alongside Callahan.
On paper, Callahan’s life story sounds a little rote, hitting all the stops on the road to recovery and dealing with tragedy. Of course, Callaghan was clearly a unique, charismatic figure, and his presence is keenly felt in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot. Recreations of Callahan’s sketches are interspersed throughout the film, on each occasion injecting a bolt of humour and personality that carries Don’t Worry through its bleaker moments of introspection.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot finds new purpose in its final act, relating the film itself to the twelfth step of Alcoholics Anonymous and justifying its own existence beyond a traditional biopic of an interesting man. It’s just a shame that the maelstrom of eccentric minds behind the scenes didn’t lead to a wilder final product.
CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black
DIRECTOR: Gus Van Sant
WRITERS: Gus Van Sant (screenplay), John Callahan (story), Gus Van Sant (story), Jack Gibson (story), William Andrew Eatman (story), John Callahan (book)
SYNOPSIS: On the rocky path to sobriety after a life-changing accident, John Callahan discovers the healing power of art, willing his injured hands into drawing hilarious, often controversial cartoons, which bring him a new lease on life.