“Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot” Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot is more of a hagiography of Alcoholic Anonymous than it is a biography of wheelchair bound New Yorker cartoonist John Callahan.

Referenced at the end, is his best known cartoon, a parody of evolution that traces life from single cell organism to a man at a podium thanking all those who made it possible for him to be there is meant to be the final summation of his own evolutionary and spiritual journey. The other famous one that forms a bookend and the film’s title shows two cowboys on horseback in the dessert commenting on an empty wheelchair.

In between there is a lot of AA meetings that eventually get annoying as they reference the steps program, and build up half honest confessions that induce occasional eye rolling from the group and showcase moments of over emoting rage from the bit actors, a last third act that seeks the final forgiveness steps from others and Callahan himself as it enshrouds Joaquin Phoenix in a celestial light so washed out that it qualifies as a heavenly ascension.

The dual public and private nature of the steps program is mirrored in the plot’s frame that has Callahan revealing his story without variation to both the group and admiring public. The constant calling each other out propels the plot from bad acting moments from others to great acting ones from Joaquin Phoenix.

Unintentionally undercutting everything is an insinuating and ingratiating Jonah Hill as the Jesus groomed leader of the group residing in an airy mansion, living the prosperity gospel and urging his followers to seek a higher power. Contrasting Hill is a sincere Rooney Mara, a Swedish angel adorned in ever lightening heavenly blue outfits that has her role shifting from Callahan’s physical therapist to his assistant to his lover to his eventual stairway to heaven.

Director Gus Van Sant in what qualifies as almost witty character development has Phoenix drives his electric wheelchair in an arc that goes from fast disgruntled recklessness to swift but careful joyful abundance.

Sadly, Callahan’s cartoons vividly animated and sketched are receded as the art becomes background to the Oedipal drama of a son successfully overcoming his abandonment issues and alcoholism.

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