Phenomenal casting and a perfectly paired score make this Gus Van Sant film an exhilarating tribute to John Callahan.
The always intriguing Joaquin Phoenix stars in the new film from director Gus Van Sant, "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot." In it he plays a quadriplegic alcoholic who, with the help of others, finds the ability to forgive himself.
Presented in a series of out-of-sequence flashbacks, we discover the demons that have plagued John Callahan (Phoenix) since birth. From having been abandoned by his mother to alcohol addiction at an early age, John has had no control over his life. When at age 21 he is paralyzed after a night of binge drinking in a car crash, he spirals into even heavier drinking. When an angelic volunteer therapist (Rooney Mara) falls in love with him and encourages John to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, his life begins to take positive turns.
Group therapy sessions are led by Donnie (Jonah Hill), a charismatic, caftan-clad millionaire whose philosophical musings inspire John. His recklessness is eventually channeled into creating controversial cartoons which propel him to celebrity status. And his hilarious political incorrectness results in receiving the elusive attention he spent a lifetime seeking.
Based on the memoirs of John Callahan, Van Sant has managed to create a film which doesn't stoop to becoming preachy. There's a playfulness that permeates even the saddest moments in John's life. Crashing around in his wheelchair, trying to open liquor bottles with his teeth and having therapeutic sex aren't presented as pathetic but rather providing welcome comic relief in a twisted manner. And Danny Elfman's jazzy scoring is paired perfectly with John's sporadic misadventures.
The casting couldn't have been better. Phoenix is a natural at creating chaotic characters who carve a niche into your heart. His performance is an exhilarating tribute to John Callahan. Jack Black, in a very small role as the man behind the wheel when the car crashes, is absolutely gut-wrenching. But it's Jonah Hill's portrayal as the soul-saving, hippie mentor that will quietly blow you away. It's one of those performances that unexpectedly defines a truly great actor.
As the credits roll, special thanks is given to the late, great Robin Williams who wanted Gus Van Sant to direct him in "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot" twenty years ago. One can't help but ponder the irony in his request.
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