Our Review of the movie ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’, directed by Gus Van Sant and with the masterful Joaquin Phoenix.
“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot”
Behind and in Front of the Camera
Inspired by a true story, this emotional and entertaining drama is based on the autobiography of John Callahan and it is directed by the director Gus Van Sant.
The protagonists of the film are Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black.
The film is produced by Oscar-winner Steve Golin (“Spotlight,” “The Revenant”), Charles-Marie Anthonioz (“Spring Breakers,” “One More Time with Feeling”), Mourad Belkeddar (“Heaven Knows What,” “One More Time with Feeling”) and Nicolas Lhermitte (“Heaven Knows What,” “One More Time with Feeling”).
Who’s Got the Typewriter
The idea of making a film about the remarkable story of cartoonist John Callahan has come to the mind of Gus Van Sant 20 years ago when he was offered to direct this movie by actor Robin Williams. The actor had bought the rights of the memoir written by Callahan, titled “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.”
Williams was interested in producing the film and playing the role of this quaint character from Portland, and he wanted Van Sant to develop the project and direct the film. Williams wished to interpret this role also to pay tribute to his friend, the actor Christopher Reeve, who had been paralyzed following a fall from his horse.
Van Sant has collaborated with several screenwriters during the ‘90s and the ’00s, developing different versions of the screenplay, but then the film has never taken off: “I think the studios were struggling to understand the project, but for all those years, we continued to meet John Callahan and we learned a lot about him and his life. “
In 2014, after Williams’ death, Van Sant decided to rewrite the screenplay, this time as faithfully as possible to the book: “In the previous versions of the adaptation, we had taken many liberties and the film would have been much more extravagant than the book, perhaps because Robin would have played Callahan. I think we were trying to conform too much to his life as well. The book is very powerful but, in the end, I focused mainly on just one of the chapter, the one in which John tries to heal from alcoholism.”
What to Know (ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS)
The last day he was able to use his legs, John Callahan, a Portland slacker, wakes up without the hangover feelings, only because he’s still drunk from the night before. The night before, at a very wild party, he meets Dexter (Jack Black), the perfect drinking companion, who convinces him to go to an even crazier party.
But his new friend falls asleep while driving and John wakes up stuck in a wheelchair and with the only partial use of the arms. Although at the beginning of his new life he has no intention to remain sober, he participates in a series of rehab meetings in 12 stages, conducted by a charismatic sponsor named Donnie (Jonah Hill), and he sees again Annu (Rooney Mara), a therapist he first met at the hospital.
Thanks to their encouragement, John realizes that love is not outside his grasp and he begins to discover a hidden talent for drawing.
What You’ll Need
The wish for laughing, crying and understanding.
What will you bring home? A thought of courage. And the masterful interpretation of Joaquin Phoenix impressed in your mind.
What They Say
Van Sant wanted to work with Joaquin: “We’ve always been in touch and when I sent him this project he immediately agreed to be a part of it.”
Phoenix was really enthusiastic: “I always thought that Gus had a unique vision. And it is true and since he knew John, I was convinced that this would not be the typical biopic. I’ve already done one recently and I was no longer very interested in that kind of traditional narrative. And then, in my opinion, the way he wanted to use the animation in the movie was really interesting. ”
Phoenix has also spent some time in Downey, California, at the “Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center,” the facility in which Callahan was cured after the accident. He talked to several Ranch’s patients and then he revealed that he has felt very uncomfortable at first. “It’s always pretty weird, when you do the research for a movie, to go to someone and say ‘I want to analyze your life.’ But many of the people I spoke to were injured 15 or 20 years earlier, so they wanted to talk. They said: ‘Okay, ask me anything.’ One day I met a kid who had just arrived,“ Says Phoenix. “I didn’t talk to him that much because he was still upset. That day, I understood the intensity of the trauma that you experience in that kind of situation. I also drew from John’s book, where he explains in detail what he had felt during that time. All this helped me a lot to understand that episode of John’s Life. “
The meticulous preparation of Phoenix was much appreciated by Tom, the younger brother of the cartoonist, who visited the set with his family. “It was amazing to see Joaquin,” he says. “My son, my wife and I looked at each other and said: My God, he moves like John! I also told him that it was like seeing John again. It was a great thrill.”
Black says that as soon as he heard about the film he immediately felt ready to be a part of the project. “There were Gus Van Sant and Joaquin Phoenix! With those two names, even before reading the script, I already knew that I would have accepted. It is the realistic description of the sobriety phase, made by a really existed character who arrives to touch the bottom of the abyss and that, with the nails and with the teeth, is able to escape it thanks to a program in 12 phases. It is a crude description of the alcoholism’s world, of which it is a fascinating reading, and although I am familiar with this subject there were so many things that I did not know about the shades of this disease.”
Black jokes about the director’s choice for the role of Dexter: “In the screenplay, he is described as a blowhard. I was very flattered that Gus Van Sant offered me a role in his film because he is one of my favorite filmmakers ever. But I also felt a little bit offended by the fact that he thought: ‘Who can I call to interpret this blowhard? Who would be perfect for the role of an asshole? Oh, I got it! Jack Black, he would be perfect!’ But I accepted! It was hard, but I turned into a big blowhard.“
One Last Thing…
It was Phoenix who suggested to Van Sant to consider Mara, with whom he had just finished filming the biblical drama “Mary Magdalene:” “Rooney is a formidable actress, I could not help but say: ‘Yes of course, if she is interested in the role, it would be perfect! We can say that she was chosen following Joaquin’s suggestion.”
Alongside the actors just mentioned there are other particularly noteworthy performances, like that of the singer Beth Ditto: this is her first important role in a movie. Ditto, who is known for being the singer of the indie-rock group “Gossip,” interprets Reba, an exuberant and blunt member of Donnie’s support group, who candidly tells John that he is not the only one with problems. Ditto was surprised when, while she was in Hawaii to visit her parents-in-law, she received an email asking her to show up at auditions for the role. “I ran to the auditions without knowing my lines,” She admits. “I was really excited to meet Gus Van Sant. He’s a special person, for many reasons. I’m lucky that this is my first real film role. Who knows, maybe it will be the last one, but it’s okay!”
Christopher Blauvelt, director of photography, who had previously worked with the director, explained that filming had not been planned beforehand: “We have not made a list of shots except for some wonderful storyboards’ paintings with the watercolors by Gus, which show the night when John and Dexter get drunk. These storyboards were made following the request of some of us and they were necessary to understand the sequence’s logistics. Mainly, we talked about the shots and took pictures of the locations to get a general idea, but the great thing about working for Gus is that everyone leaves the mind open until they arrive on set and see the evidence. It is difficult from a logistical point of view but it is really nice to be guided by the environment and everything that happens around you.”
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