Life is full of strange, beautiful, and most of the time, unpleasant surprises. As it tries to balance its possibilities, it often transforms into fate and looks for the right target to play its tricky game on. Tricky or not, it plays quite an excellent role when it challenges an individual before and after one particular accident, where that person does not fail to prove why he was the right choice in the first place. Of course, all what I just said is purely my imagination, but that’s the only thing which comes to my mind after watching such an inspiring film based on a real-life person John Callahan and his transformation from a struggling alcoholic to a cartoonist.
“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” follows John Callahan, the renowned cartoonist who at the age of 21 lost his ability to walk. It all starts with an accident that leaves the young man quadriplegic. Callahan was asleep when Dexter mistook a light pole for an exit and drove into it at 90 mph. Despite Callahan’s serious injury, the driver of John’s Volkswagen walked away with barely a scratch. In a weird way, the incident transforms him and changes him completely when he begins shifting his focus from his outside-self to the person who he always had on the inside – a talented artist with special humor who knew how to express himself and the world he saw through his drawings.
The film concentrates on Callahan’s past when he met Dexter (Jack Black) who takes him to a party where both were too wasted to pay attention to anything around them. That was the night when everything changes. But after that dreadful accident, Callahan stopped drinking and joined Alcoholic Anonymous where he befriends Donnie (Jonah Hill), who seemingly found the right key to open up all the pain John had within himself and eventually get through to it with dignity.
As the film has too much to tell, which is basically based on the book by John Callahan, director Gus Van Sant cleverly navigates through John’s life and translates it into a film where the viewer will have enough opportunities to learn more about Callahan’s mind, his way of dealing with the fact of him being adopted, the mother he never met, and his best friend who turned into a formidable and unbeatable foe – alcohol.
As for the performance, Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan was exceptional. His powerful and detailed portrayal of John Callahan provides a clear view of Callahan’s self-destructive life and how the same life turns into a controlled disease. Jonah Hill as Donnie, I must admit, was truly shocking. What he did with his performance or the character he portrayed was something pure, gentle and truly caring. He gave his life to Donnie who, I am sure, will live through the silver screen. But both men, despite being unrecognizable and absolutely outstanding in their own way, did not try to overplay each other, which was the true display of the masters at work.
The score from Dany Elfman draws the right mood of the film that brings the viewer closer to what Gus Van Sant intended to capture. The colors, editing and directing were skilful and right to the point. Indeed, it’s a slow-burning drama at times, but the exceptional character study of not someone who became disabled after a car accident, but how that individual rose above all odds is something that could have destroyed any other less prepared spirit.
In conclusion, there’s a saying you will see right in the beginning of the film when John addresses the large group about his alcoholism which states, “This town ain’t accessible enough for both of us,” which metaphorically one can translate into two Johns you will be seeing in Gus Van Sant’s film, the first one is a paralyzed, helpless but still hopeful John, while the second one is strong, determined and ready to never give up personality you will honestly fall in love with.
Having said that, “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is a well-balanced, emotionally charged biopic that never tries to manipulate the viewer’s feelings. Inspiring and important piece, there is always something for any type of audience to learn from Callahan’s story, but more importantly that life does not end when there’s no hope. And that sometimes something should happen in order to unlock the impossible or something better that would have never come into existence before. It’s like a computer game, passing through one door from another, the gamer finds more difficult challenges, but in the end finishes it with record breaking points. And that’s how John Callahan was portrayed in this film, and to be honest, there would be no better way of telling it than the way Gus Van Sant/Phoenix did.