Verdict: I wouldn’t rush to the cinema, but worth a watch on the sofa.
This black comedy biopic from My Own Private Idaho director Gus Van Sant follows the rollercoaster life of cartoonist John Callahan, who suffers a terrible accident and turns to art to save him from drink.
Joaquin Phoenix is well cast in the role of jolly drunk who swiftly becomes surly and depressed drunk after being paralysed in a drink-driving accident. He bounces off fellow drunkard Jack Black brilliantly, and plays the young version of Callahan remarkably well for a 44 year old.
The vibrancy of his youthful days give way to a much bleaker portion of the film, which regrettably takes up quite a lot of it. Seeing him wallow at rock bottom is sad at first, but quickly becomes monotonous. Oddly enough, it’s Jonah Hill that saves this movie. I bet that’s a sentence that’s never been said before. But in the lead up to the release of his directorial debut Mid-90s, Hill seems to have adopted a more mature approach to his work.
His character is a very alternative Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor that Callahan turns to and relies on quite heavily throughout his recovery process. A flamboyantly hippie Jesus figure, Hill balances laugh out loud comedy with a genuine warmth and profundity that he carries surprisingly well.
Phoenix himself is on screen for almost the entire film, a compelling presence indeed, but even he struggles to pull off the emotional epiphany which appears in the form of a vision of Callahan’s long lost mother who gave him up as a child. It’s too pithy for so cynical of a lead character, and speaks more to the romanticism of the film itself — the light at the end of the tunnel. At times, you’ll be wishing for the light at the end of the tunnel of this movie – especially the two dimensional romance between Callahan and Phoenix’s real life girlfriend Rooney Mara, who has a maximum of five minutes of total screen time.
Though the pair have a powerful chemistry as demonstrated in Mary Magdalene, the reluctance to give Mara’s character any fleshing out at all beyond a couple of happy time montages, results in a wasted subplot that leaves the audience rolling its eyes. Surely it does a disservice to ignore the impact the love of his life had on his recovery process, but this very machismo male-dominated story remains such.
The real joy of the film comes in Callahan’s cartoons themselves, and in the joy he takes in them. That being said, the delight he takes in offending is one that comes across a little stale in our current political climate.
Gus Van Sant’s filmic love affair with Phoenix is visible in every frame – a film created to showcase an actor first and foremost. The result is a self-indulgent and only sometimes enjoyable biopic.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is in cinemas on October 26th.