Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot
In telling the story of Portland cartoonist John Callahan in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, writer/director Gus Van Sant sidesteps emotional manipulation in depicting alcoholism and people with disabilities.
The honest approach lassoes another raw Joaquin Phoenix performance, this time as a quadriplegic battling addiction, working his way through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with help from a multi-faceted framing device that involves him telling his story to an auditorium audience, an AA meeting and a group of skateboarding kids who help him up after a fall.
The jumbled chronology and illustration of nearly every step keeps viewers alert while conveying the ongoing battles one faces in maintaining sobriety, and organically works in warm turns by Jonah Hill as John’s quirky AA sponsor and Jack Black as the man responsible for John’s life-altering injury.
Beyond a charming meet-cute, John’s love interest played by Rooney Mara is poorly developed, but she nonetheless moves the story forward, as do fellow program members played by Udo Kier, Beth Ditto, Mark Webber, Ronnie Adrian and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon.
In textbook Van Sant fashion, plenty of well-earned laughs await — including several courtesy of a well-placed cactus and date stamp — within a well-crafted, often melancholy dramatic structure. Few modern filmmakers are capable of pulling off that tonal tightrope walk to this degree, and the resulting success is one that warrants celebration.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Now playing at the Fine Arts Theatre
(Photo: Amazon Studios)