Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot15
It’s actually been 23 years since Joaquin Phoenix and director Gus Van Sant worked together, when Phoenix appeared in Van Sant’s 1995 To Die For.
Of course Van Sant was already familiar with the Phoenix clan by then, having paired his brother River with fellow heartthrob Keanu Reeves for his 1991 film My Private Idaho.
This reunion sees the pair tell the real life story of artist John Callahan.
Everybody likes a drink or two, but unfortunately for John (Phoenix), he can’t stop there. So much so that he can’t even leave his house without an alcoholic beverage on his person.
Some friends of his invite him to a party, where he meets the super friendly Dexter (Jack Black). Dexter tells him that this party is lame, and he knows of a far better one to go to, where the girls are ten times hotter. Taking that kind of level of hotness into consideration, John agrees.
They aren’t in that great a hurry however, and, despite having their fair share of drinks already, decide to stop off at a bar and top up. Needless to say, the fact that both decide to get back in the car and drive to the party, is a massive mistake.
Next thing John knows, he’s waking up in hospital and discovers he’s paralysed from the chest down.
Even when he’s released, and now in a motorised wheelchair, John can’t leave the drink alone. Realising he has a real drinking problem, he decides to attend AA, where he meets the charming Donnie Green (Jonah Hill), who runs the meeting.
It’s there that he not only comes face to face with his demons, including his estranged relationship with his mother, but also discovers that despite his disability, he still has the ability to draw, which ends up giving him a newfound sense of hope.
As you would expect from Phoenix, who has more than just a touch of the method about him, this is a part he thoroughly throws himself into, as John is far from your average leading man material.
Van Sant, in his own imitable style, shoots with no gloss nor sheen, giving the film a worthy down-to-earth feeling.
Unfortunately this lack of shine also reflects in the script. The narrative is not only a tad choppy, but the dialogue is also on the flat side. What’s left is a bunch of oddball characters with little in the way of direction. Even the main character’s discovery of being able to draw quirky cartoons, which he eventually became renowned for, feels almost like an afterthought.
Considering the array of talent on board, including Rooney Mara and musicians Beth Ditto and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon in acting roles, and a vibrant soundtrack by Danny Elfman, John Callahan’s story seems to get lost in the background somehow, with incidental characters somehow stealing more screen time.
If only Van Sant had managed to focus on what was already an interesting story about a fascinating man, this feature would have been far more accessible.