Don’t let this one get too far away.
Synopsis: After Portland slacker John Callahan nearly loses his life in a car accident, the last thing he intends to do is give up drinking. But when he reluctantly enters treatment — with encouragement from his girlfriend and a charismatic sponsor — Callahan discovers a gift for drawing edgy, irreverent newspaper cartoons that develop an international following and grant him a new lease on life. Based on a true story, this poignant, insightful and often funny drama about the healing power of art is adapted from Callahan’s autobiography and directed by two-time Oscar® nominee Gus Van Sant. (Elevation Pictures)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, and Rooney Mara
Writer: Gus Van Sant
Director: Gus Van Sant
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 114mins
Joaquin Phoenix is one of the best actors working today. Not just anyone can go from something like the very dark and gritty You Were Never Really Here to the dramatically different Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot. In this true story, Phoenix plays John Callahan, an alcoholic whom after a car accident causes him to nearly lose his life and left him paralyzed, decides to give up drinking. Over the course of his recovery, Callahan develops a talent of drawing cartoons, giving him a reason to live and popularity.
Callahan may be paralyzed, however, the story was about much more than his condition. The film doesn’t follow the standard biographical per se but this choice only left the story feeling disjointed while making it difficult to follow at times. Despite how all the parts were put together, its individual parts were very compelling to watch. Instead of being about Callahan’s condition, the story was about him overcoming his deeply-rooted issues that were the cause of his alcoholism. He wasn’t alone in this as he had his girlfriend Annu (Mara) and his charismatic AA sponsor Donnie (Hill).
The story featured multiple timelines, showing Callahan at his arguably worst with his alcoholism and questionable behavior leading to his paralysis and eventually overcoming his frustration with his new condition as well as him finally facing his demons and getting to the root of his issues thanks to Annu and Donnie. The film dealt with some serious subject matter along the way but it also balances it with some great humor. Callahan only had sense of humor being a satirical cartoonist so he used it, along with his positive attitude, to help him get through all his personal tragedy. Some of his cartoons would even come to life and lighten things up even more.
Though it took quite a lot to convince Callahan to give up drinking, his moment of realization was a powerful one. This led him to seek out AA meetings for help. There, he met Donnie, a zen master type whose own ongoing struggles with alcoholism served as inspiration for Callahan. He decided to join Donnie’s group of sponsees, for whom Donnie called piglets. Donnie helped his piglets with their sobriety by imparting his own wisdom while they also helped each other which had an impact on Callahan. It took some time for him to get used to the meetings and sharing with others but the scenes between Donnie and Callahan were very fun to watch. Also, the score fit in nicely by bringing plenty of emotion to the proceedings.
Suffice it to say that Phoenix was the best part of the film as none of it would have worked nearly as well if not for his incredible performance as Callahan (challenging his performance in YWNRH). He single handedly carried the film’s disjointed narrative and the emotion behind his character arc was both compelling and inspirational to watch. Sure, the fact that he isn’t really disabled will surely irk some people but they needed an able-bodied actor to work the pre-accident scenes anyway. As incredible as Phoenix was, Hill as Donnie was arguably better. In a departure from his predominantly comedic roles, he simply commanded the screen with his personality and charm. Both he and Phoenix had excellent chemistry, making their scenes fun to watch. Mara as Annu was good as well despite having next to nothing to do. Jack Black was good as Callahan’s friend Dexter and was part of a powerful scene with Phoenix’s Callahan near the end.
Overall, this was a great biopic with a compelling but slightly disjointed narrative that still managed to be funny at times while also touching and inspirational thanks to incredible performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Jonah Hill.