Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

 

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Following a paralysing accident, a wheelchair incumbent discovers a new-found talent for drawing in Gus Van Sant’s freewheeling new biopic.

 

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot

Joaquin Phoenix

  

Gus Van Sant’s film about the life of one John Callahan is based on Callahan’s own autobiography, here scripted by the director. Following a car accident, the already unhinged alcoholic hero ends up as a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair. One has the impression that he was an angry man even before his accident. Visits to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings only seem to make matters worse for him until he settles down and gets used to being in rehab. His fellow recoverers appear to him to be fakers looking for an easy way out. Unfazed, they proffer nothing but help and are far too understanding for his liking. 
 
Callahan is a tragic figure but the film (and presumably the book, too) is shot through with a mordant sense of humour. No doubt there is always something comic about sex therapy but to have a professional female intern sit on his face is an absolute joy for her patient. The only other release he finds in his restricted life is rediscovering his abilities as a cartoonist of rather questionable but nevertheless funny drawings. He can only do these with both hands clutched together. The results turn out to be successful and Callahan becomes something of a prized celebrity. The cartoons, crude in execution and in content too, are very funny so it is a pity that Van Sant does not let his camera linger on some of the longer captions in order to give us time to read them. One that is very short and very non-PC has a bearded figure on a cross saying “Thank God it’s Friday!”
 
Gus Van Sant’s freewheeling style of direction echoes the character of his subject and allows Joaquin Phoenix to give a bravura performance as the infuriating Callahan and one that is all too believable. The semi-documentary nature of the film – it is after all a biopic – makes the supporting cast seem almost surreal with the likes of Beth Ditto, Kim Gordon, Tony Greenhand et al playing his fellow addicts, and especially Jonah Hill as Callahan’s AA confidant who, with his long blonde hair, robes and jewellery, resembles a gay hippy Christ figure. Rooney Mara as his Swedish girlfriend Annu doesn’t make too much of an impression but Jack Black as Dexter, Callahan’s equally alcoholic best friend and the cause of John’s life-changing accident, is a hoot. 
 
After all the initial mind-boggling antics that form Callahan’s life in a wheelchair, he settles down with the onset of success and begins to regret the way he treated people in the past. In the most moving part of the film Callahan revisits former teachers, employers and friends to pay his long-overdue respects. He finally gives back to them what he himself lost on the way. 
 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black, Tony Greenhand, Beth Ditto, Mark Webber, Ronnie Adrian, Kim Gordon, Udo Kier.

 

Dir Gus Van Sant, Pro Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Mourad Belkeddar, Steve Golin and Nicholas Lhermite, Screenplay Gus Van Sant, based on the book by John Callahan, Ph Christopher Blauvelt, Pro Des Jahmin Assa, Ed David Marks and Gus Van Sant, Music Danny Elfman, Costumes Danny Glicker.

 

Amazon Studios/Anonymous Content/Big Indie Pictures/Iconoclast-Mubi.

114 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 26 October 2018. Cert. 15.