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

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, the new film from Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), finds strength in a discombobulated narrative. The tale of late quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan, a mean-spirited alcoholic on the road to being better, Van Sant’s biopic hits every beat expected of a based-on-a-true-story story — the tragedies, the triumphs, the moments of realization, even the lofty speeches that tie them together — only it organizes them in a manner that flies in the face of traditional Hollywood storytelling. The film isn’t some mystery to be unlocked though; it’s a presentation of the familiar robbed of its starry-eyed quality, with a sharp focus on the real-world nuances, and difficulties, of self-actualization. It’s “like real life” in a way movies aren’t usually meant to be, ignoring narrative instincts, often intentionally, in favour of achingly human real-world complications, the kind that cinema and television are rarely adept at capturing.

The film, like the book it’s based on, takes its title from a self-deprecating cartoon by Callahan, an “equal opportunity offender” who began drawing in lines and squiggles after his accident, and who reveled in offending the guardians of “Political Correctness.” Joaquin Phoenix plays Callahan with a similarly self-deprecating streak, introducing himself at every party and AA meeting with the same bitter mantra that articulates his core as a character: “I knew three things about my mother. She was Irish, she had red hair, and she was a school teacher. Oh yeah, and she didn’t want me. I guess that makes four things.”

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