Gus Van Sant gets back into fine directing shape with Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, his best effort in years.
Joaquin Phoenix gets much of the credit; he’s terrific as real-life cartoonist John Callahan, an alcoholic who wound up in a wheelchair after a car accident with a friend (Jack Black). Van Sant jumps around with his timeline—but the film is never confusing, no matter where it goes. We see Callahan pre-accident, drinking tequila first thing in the morning. We also see him during one of the film’s framing devices, a convention at which Callahan is sharing his story. Most effectively, we see him in group-therapy sessions led by Donnie (Jonah Hill), a free-spirited, generally kind man who, nevertheless, isn’t going to give you many breaks as your sponsor. Those sessions have a documentary-like feel, and Hill is especially good (and nearly unrecognizable) in them.
Phoenix is having a great year—if you haven’t seen him in You Were Never Really Here, you must—and this might be his very best work yet. Rooney Mara, Carrie Brownstein and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth show up in brief, yet effective roles. This is one of the summer’s better films.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot opens Friday, July 27, at theaters including the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).