Review: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (Sundance)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: The true story of cartoonist John Callahan, who was paralyzed as a young man following a drunken bender, but despite being quadriplegic, managed to become an acclaimed artist.

REVIEW: It’s been a lean few years for Gus Van Sant fans, with the director’s efforts mostly divided between well-meant flops like SEA OF TREES and journeyman work on something like PROMISED LAND. Having not made a real slam-dunk since MILK, DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT marks a modest return to form, even if it’s a little too shaggy to take it’s place among his top tier efforts.

A long-gestating project, Van Sant, who also wrote (with the late Callahan himself getting a co-story credit) tries to shake up standard biopic conventions by adopting a confusing chronology that takes some getting used to. He cuts back and forth between Callahan in middle-age, to his early days paralyzed, to his last day being able to walk, with digressions in between. Given how little star Joaquin Phoenix’s appearance changes throughout the film, this becomes a little confusing, with the changing styles and presidents suggesting it takes place over at least twenty years, but what’s happening when isn’t always clear. At one point, Callahan appears to relapse, but whether this happens in his pre-AA days or after is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps a re-edit away from being a truly good film, this current, Sundance version still has a lot about it that’s great – namely Callahan’s compelling story and the amazing performances. Phoenix is admirably toned down here, and at his most likable since HER as the flawed but good-hearted artist, who’s refreshingly low on the self-pity. Much of the film is devoted to his time in AA, and Jonah Hill, as his rich-kid, gay sponsor all but walks away with the film. Hill, as a character that’s funny but also has pathos and some grounded moments, effortlessly steps into the part, and while Phoenix is good, it’s Hill that already has people talking around Park City.

The AA-stuff is when the movie is at its best, and Van Sant has an easier time depicting the pseudo family-esque relationship between them (with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Udo Kier other members of his group) than Callahan’s personal life. The elliptical approach hurts the depiction of his romance with Rooney Mara’s character – with her playing a Scandinavian flight attendant he seemingly has an on-and-off relationship with. Jack Black, playing an acquaintance of Callahan’s, is worth singling out. He only has two scenes, but they’re among the best in the film – with their climactic scene a tough one to shake.

Initial reaction to this one out of Sundance has been decidedly mixed, but while it’s unwieldy and inconsistent in its current form, there’s a really good movie in there if the narrative is just put into a little more focus. As it is though, this is a strong actors showcase for all involved, and even if it goes out as is, it’s still one of Van Sant’s better recent films.

Review: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (Sundance)



About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.