Magazine article Variety

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot

Magazine article Variety

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot

Article excerpt

COMPETITION

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot

Director, screenplay: Gus Van Sant

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black

Twenty years ago, Robin Williams approached director Gus Van Sant about developing irreverent Portland cartoonist John Callahan's memoir, "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot," with the intention of playing its author - a quadriplegic skirtchaser, wheelchair racer, born-again bastard, tactlessly un-PC. disaster - in what sounds like it would have been a wild, Charlie Kaufman-esque pinwheel of a movie. Instead, we get super-chameleon Joaquin Phoenix in the role, and though the end result couldn't be more different, it's a keeper in any case.

Coming off a run of some of the most disappointing films in his career (the absolute nadir being 2015's treacly selfhelp lesson "The Sea of Trees"), Van Sant has rebounded with one of his best, a life-affirming sweet-and-sour concoction that recalls such crowd-pleasers as "Good Will Hunting" and "Finding Forrester," and which will very likely launch Phoenix (back at work with his "To Die For" director) and co-star Jonah Hill (as audiences have never seen him before, playing the unlikeliest of life coaches) into the awards conversation.

Though movies like this are increasingly controversial to the disabled community, many of whom object to having able-bodied performers portray their experience on-screen, there's a genuine value in seeing Callahan's story (roughly a third of which takes place before his accident), and in representing quadriplegic characters on-screen. Whether they've been disabled since birth (a la "The Sessions") or later in life ("The Sea Inside," "The Theory of Everything"), their stories have a way of reminding able-bodied people what they take for granted, while serving to bridge the perception of difference and discomfort that no doubt contributes to an under-representation of handicapped characters in general. In Callahan's case, his alcoholism indirectly caused his injury, and the circle of sincere human support that gathers around him - both for overcoming his addiction and adapting to his condition - is so beautiful as to justify the controversy of its casting.

Not that it has to be nearly so sentimental as depicted here, mind you. It's the existential aspects of a story like this that impress the most, since Callahan's injury forced him to reexamine virtually all of his priorities. He'd been a severe alcoholic from his early teens until age 21, when the accident that left him in traction ought to have come as a wake-up call. …

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