Whether you’re a fan of John Callahan’s crude and lewd cartoons or not doesn’t matter when it comes to this biopic of his. The loftily titled Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot doesn’t spend its time recounting his claim to fame or the creativity of his off-colour humour, which may disappoint some, but instead opts to recollect his alcoholism and his paraplegia, which may delight others.
John (Joaquin Phoenix) is an alcoholic-paraplegic-cartoonist, in that order. Abandoned as a child, he resorts to the drink throughout most of his adult life, until he is involved in a car accident with a fellow bar-hopper he meets. Left a paraplegic, his depression (and ergo alcoholism) begin to intensify, but he is also encouraged by the accident to finally visit a 12-step program, held by Donnie (Jonah Hill, in one of his more sedated roles).
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot initially cuts back and forth between before and after John’s accident, all of which is framed by fairly useless yet fairly brief flash-forwards of now accomplished cult cartoonist John giving a speech about his life. Neither this speech, nor any other part of this film, gives much indication to the kind of fame John acquired in his field of art, but Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot focuses mostly on his two-punch tragedy—his alcoholism and then his paraplegia.
John is supported by some nicely fitting supporting players, like Donnie, the young extremely financially privileged trust-fund kid with a high sense of humility. Amidst the friendly and supportive cast in the twelve-step program (featuring some strong supporting roles from musicians Beth Ditto and Kim Gordon), there are some far more wonkily inserted characters. His girlfriend, Annu (Rooney Mara) feels like she’s bumping right into the film and John’s life, seeming more a casting decision than a fully formed character.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is a flawed and messy film, but it seems worth all its sloppiness for what it’s able to do well. At its core, it is an empathetic exposé into the self-destructiveness of alcoholism and the hopefulness that rises from it, all the while never wallowing in pity or moroseness, but keeping itself lively and entertaining.