Van Sant moves closer to oblivion with a tedious PSA

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Roxy Theatre

Opens Friday 7
2 out of 5

Gus Van Sant’s reputation has plummeted in recent years. The two-time Oscar nominee hasn’t had a commercial or critical hit since 2008’s Milk and his last “prestige” film — The Sea of Trees — wasn’t even distributed theatrically in Canada.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is an improvement but it doesn’t reverse Van Sant’s downward trend. Worse, the movie’s shortcomings are all direction-related.

Joaquin Phoenix in a hideous hairdo is John Callahan, an alcoholic whose addiction puts him in a wheelchair. Paralyzed from the waist down with limited control of his hands, Callahan tries to sober up with the help of an unorthodox sponsor (Jonah Hill) and by channeling his rage into darkly hilarious cartoons.

Based on the real Callahan’s autobiography, the story is a straightforward tale of personal growth and Van Sant keeps the bio-pic grounded in reality (to uncomfortable levels) while incorporating plenty of the cartoonist’s oeuvre. Good so far but unfortunately Van Sant muddies the water for no discernible reason by breaking the timeline into three parts. Normally a director does this to make a point but in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot it feels like a senseless flourish. Worse, two of the timelines are so close together that they lead to confusion.

The acting is competent although Jack Black and Hill can’t overcome their public personas (Hill looks like he’s playing dress-up). Phoenix holds the movie together because that’s what he does, while Rooney Mara is squandered as a Swedish version of the manic pixie dream girl stereotype. In hindsight, it appears Gus Van Sant has a problem portraying women. I mean, his most accomplished creation is To Die For’s fame-obsessed sociopath.

Once upon a time, Van Sant was the edgiest American filmmaker around. He was never afraid of pushing the envelope but now his movies seem like public service announcements. It really seems his best days are behind him.