Synopsis: The story of American cartoonist John Callahan whose alcoholism led him to a permeant physical impairment and a career in satirical cartoons.
Gus Van Sant follows up his critically-panned SEA OF TREES with DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT, a return to form for the director if not on the level of his other works. Emotional, superbly acted but lacking of nuance and better editing, DON’T WORRY delivers a bittersweet tale of resilience, forgiveness and hope that is anchored by a terrific performance by Joaquin Phoenix but dragged down by some strange editing and screenplay choices.
Opting for a more unconventional way to present this biopic, Gus Van Sant chooses not to tell the story chronologically. Moving back and forth between the past and present, perhaps because Callahan’s life gets more dramatic much later on, Van Sant does not present an entire event-by-event depiction of Callahan’s story. The decision is risky, because while it lends the film some energy by focusing on important moments first, it hinders the audience from fully investing in the story early on. That’s primarily because the film tells the story from a disability standpoint, which is an angle that endless movies have resorted to. Rather than capturing the audience’s attention, the film’s glow faints in its first half because of its monotone and mundane approach.
That’s not to say the film is an entire slog – it has several poignant and marvelously acted moments anchored by a sublime and dedicated performance by Joaquin Pheonix. The gifted actor is at his most vulnerable and believable here – and his quiet and loud moments are truly transporting. Pheonix is joined by a great supporting cast, including a surprising Jonah Hill, an underused Rooney Mara and a wonderful Jack Black. The actors bring the necessary energy to the story and help lift the script from its flat approach to something much more watchable.
Hindered by several repetitions and a lack of refreshing approach that elevates the story beyond the expected, DON’T WORRY ends up being a mixed bag of sorts. Its middle section does not sustain the energy needed to keep the audience fully invested in the ending, though the acting is great enough to at least create some curiosity and – some needed – patience. The film’s best moments are its quietest – despite several talky scenes about addiction and disability, Van Sant is at his best when he goes for subtlety and leaves room for the audience to grasp Callahan’s inner demons. Unfortunately, these moments are far too rare in a movie that went for a more on-the-nose, sappy approach.
The film holds a decent chance to connect with commercial audiences at multiplexes, especially that its approach to the story is quite accessible even if not chronological. Arthouse audiences looking for a grittier biopic may not feel entirely satisfied.
Verdict: DON’T WORRY HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT does not take real risks nor break any real ground, but it generally remains a rewarding experience thanks to its fantastic and gifted actors who overcome the several flaws of the screenplay, editing and directing.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is set for US release by Amazon Studios on July 13, 2018.