Director Gus Van Sant has brought us some very powerful films in the past — Milk, Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, to name just a few — and he frequently pushed the envelope in the way he tells a tale — To Die For, My Own Private Idaho — but his latest is a pretty straight forward bio of alcoholic cartoonist John Callahan. Played by chameleon Joaquin Phoenix, the arc of the tale is Callahan’s coming to terms with himself after a life-changing accident while getting sober at the same time. There are some funny moments for sure, and an odd romance, and also some insightful AA bits. And it is a pleasant entertainment, though not terribly memorable.

Callahan’s problems began when he was put up for adoption as a child. He tells the same story about not knowing his mother umpteen times throughout the film. And so he drinks copious quantities of liquor. And one fateful night he meets a guy at a party named Dexter (Jack Black) and the two of them go on a bender together, ending up in a crash that puts Callahan in the wheelchair for the rest of his life. And once he’s back on his own, he just starts up again. But eventually he goes to a meeting and it’s there he meets Donnie (Jonah Hill) a gay, trust fund kid who becomes his sponsor and help him find his way forward. He also meets a beautiful Swedish woman named Annu (Rooney Mara) during rehab who improbably becomes his girlfriend. And he starts drawing the cartoons that would make him famous, dealing with disabilities and taboos with a very dark humor. Newspapers that ran his work regularly endured fierce negative reactions, but he built a loyal following.

While the film could have been more about his art, it’s mostly about his sobriety. He spends a lot of time with a small group at Donnie’s mansion. They’re all Donnie’s sponsees, or as he calls them his “Piglets.” And they’ve heard it all and don’t give Callahan room to make excuses. Jonah Hill is particularly good as the tough but loving sponsor, and the group dynamics are the best part of the film. And it’s Callahan’s eventual peace with himself that it’s all about. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot isn’t a gooey inspirational flick though. It’s messy and irreverent and sad with great performances all around. I liked this film, but did not love it. But as Donnie tells Callahan, “Maybe life’s [or this film’s] not supposed to be as meaningful as we think it is.”

The film’s title is the caption for one of Callahan’s cartoons.(See below)

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