DON’T WORRY HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT is a comedy-drama biography film based on the memoir of the same name by John Callahan. Gus Van Sant (DRUGSTORE COWBOY, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, GOOD WILL HUNTING, GERRY, ELEPHANT) wrote the screen adaptation and directed the film.
When the film opens, John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) is addressing an audience after winning some award for his cartoons. Callahan is in a wheelchair as a result of a car accident involving drinking. But Callahan is still drinking though he is attending an AA group led by Donnie Hill (a totally unrecognizable Jonah Hill).
The film unfolds in non-chronological order, centring on Callahan before and after the accident, including his rise to fame with his cartoons.
DON’T WORRY will inevitably be compared to the French film, Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French: Le Scaphandre et le Papillon), a 2007 biographical drama based on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir of the same name, on a man’s disability and rehabilitation. The film depicts Bauby’s life after suffering a massive stroke that left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. Bauby is played by Mathieu Amalric. Bauby is totally conscious but unable to move all parts of his body but his left eye that he used to write the memoir. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, and the César Awards, and received four Academy Award nominations and is considered by critics as one of the best films of the decade.
DON’T WORRY never reaches the high standard hit by Le Scaphandre et le Papillon but goes towards a different direction, stressing more on the emotional than physical comeback. Whether Callahan can have sex is one of the main conditions examined. The main difference between the two films lie in the difference in the two main characters. In the French film, Bauby was strong and fixed on recovery while in this film, Callahan is self destructive and wallows in self pity. This is not helped by the fact that Callahan is still an alcoholic.
The film also considers the emotions that Callahan goes through right after the accident in the hospital. Ironically the drunk driver, Dexter (Jack Black) that caused the accident walked away with only a few scratches. Callahan met Dexter by chance at a bar and spent the night drinking heavily and driving. The film fails to mention what happened to Dexter after the accident. But Callahan asks key questions like: “Why is this happening to me?” – a question that is invariably asked by probably every person undergoing such a tragic accident. Callahan also confesses to a worker, Annu (Rooney mara) that he promised God that he would do anything and or would make a pact with the devil to become normal again. These key emotions differentiate DON’T WORRY from the French film.
Callahan’s birth as an artist only begins at the film’s one hour mark. A few of the cartoons are revealed to the audience and to Callahan’s credit, they are quite funny – a kind of THE FAR SIDE by a guy in a wheelchair.
Van Sant’s DON’T WORRY encompasses the best of his ‘lonely’ films like ELEPHANT and GERRY and ‘hidden talent’ films like GOOD WILL HUNTING, offering audiences gut wrenching insight in his soulful biography of a troubled human being.