Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

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DarkImbecile
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Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#2 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Jul 30, 2018 6:39 pm

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot is a largely inoffensive, intermittently charming look at alcoholism, disability, depression, AIDS, and cartooning that doesn't particularly care to justify its existence, which in retrospect is almost certainly preferable to any attempt to make a grand statement on any combination of those topics, but still not nearly enough to make it worth seeking out in the non-MoviePass dystopia in which we now find ourselves. Gus Van Sant's film is overstuffed with extreme closeups of teary monologues, montages, and non-linear editing that emphasizes certain phrases and moments again and again (and again, in some cases), but constructed in a way that so de-emphasizes and/or drops certain characters and threads that it makes one wonder why some key participants bothered to be involved at all.

That (mis)use of what is on paper a very strong cast is probably the most confounding part of the experience of watching the film. For once, Joaquin Phoenix is perfectly good but not much more than that as John Callahan, an aggressively self-destructive alcoholic who ends up a quadriplegic after a night of debauchery with Jack Black, who partially redeems himself with a last-act scene after basically parodying a drunk version of his most tired persona early on. As part of his recovery, Callahan joins an AlAnon support group — led by Jonah Hill giving both the best and the most aggressively capital-S Seventies performance of the film and featuring minimal appearances from Udo Kier and an against-type post-Sonic Youth Kim Gordon — while connecting with Rooney Mara in the most substance-free role I've seen her subjected to (perhaps she just wanted to attempt a Swedish accent?). Phoenix gets across a sense of wry desperation that makes the film as watchable as it is, and Hill is going somewhere left-field enough to be interesting when he's on the screen, but Van Sant's adaptation of Callahan's memoir does nothing particularly new or compelling with the material, and — perhaps most fatally — telegraphs in its opening moments so completely where Callahan ends up that it deflates nearly all the dramatic tension in his journey.

Ultimately, Stronger — David Gordon Green's 2017 entry in the severe-trauma-leading-to-personal-growth subgenre — was both more compelling and (in an upset) a better set of performances than Don't Worry, which fails to pull Van Sant out of his now decade-long slump.

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Re: The Films of 2018

#3 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jul 30, 2018 7:06 pm

He should make another movie about white people talking to the ghosts of Japanese suicide victims - third time's a charm!

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Re: The Films of 2018

#4 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Jul 30, 2018 7:21 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Mon Jul 30, 2018 7:06 pm
He should make another movie about white people talking to the ghosts of Japanese suicide victims - third time's a charm!
SpoilerShow
Phoenix does talk to an apparition, but unfortunately she is only Irish. Show some consistency, Gus!

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#5 Post by knives » Mon Jul 30, 2018 7:31 pm

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To be fair the earlier ones weren't Japanese ghosts either.

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#6 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Tue Jul 31, 2018 4:15 pm

Sometimes I wonder whether rather than making some poor films within a decent wider career with GVS, it's actually the other way round. His good films are the anomalies.

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#7 Post by Brian C » Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:55 am

I thought this was kind of a wonderful film. Specifically, I thought it really spotlighted a form of loneliness that is very rarely shown on film - not the kind of "oh, woe is me, my girlfriend left me and I'm all alone!" kind of loneliness, or even the "I'm an introvert who has trouble meeting people" kind of loneliness. Rather, it's the kind of existential, desperate, fundamental disconnection from anyone else, the feeling that no one cares because you're not worth caring about anyway, the kind of loneliness that's so profound that it would probably never occur to you that's it's loneliness that you're even feeling in the first place, because it sticks to you even when you're not actually alone. It's the kind of loneliness that really damages a person and drives them to self-destruction, and the film manages to show this at the root of Callahan's addiction even without mentioning outright - maybe without him even really understanding - that this is what he's struggling with.

But Callahan's condition is very richly observed, and the steps that lead to his recovery all have to do with him finding acceptance in places where he's surprised to find it; his introduction to Annu, the lack of judgment by the group after he's initially put on the defensive, Donny's sponsorship, his confrontation with Dexter, etc. I thought a lot of these moments had a rather extraordinary grace to them, and I really appreciated that it took the mentality of the 12-step program seriously instead of glibly using it as a plot device.

I suppose the feeling that I got from the film more than anything was one of simple openheartedness. And it meant a lot to me.

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#8 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Aug 01, 2018 1:25 am

You've shot my interest level in this one through the moon. Seeing it tomorrow.

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#9 Post by DarkImbecile » Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:02 pm

Brian C wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:55 am
I suppose the feeling that I got from the film more than anything was one of simple openheartedness. And it meant a lot to me.
I can understand that response, and it very much seemed to be what Van Sant was aiming for, so I'm glad it resonated with you.

Not that I needed it to be a standard disability melodrama, but there comes a point where a lack of dramatic friction makes a story like this very difficult to grasp on to without some connective tissue with the subject matter, and my own experiences with those suffering from alcoholism kept what felt like an "everything's going to be OK" vibe from resonating with me the way a version of this narrative with a little more tension might have. That said, that vibe is not at all inappropriate for the Callahan character as presented, so I wouldn't be surprised to see more positive responses from those who can ride with it.

My one potential disagreement with your response was this (emphasis mine):
Brian C wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:55 am
It's the kind of loneliness that really damages a person and drives them to self-destruction, and the film manages to show this at the root of Callahan's addiction even without mentioning outright - maybe without him even really understanding - that this is what he's struggling with.
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Did you not feel that the repeated references to the three — make that four — things he knows about his mother, along with his repeated attempts to find her and come to grips with her absence in his life, were a strong underlining of the point you make above? Or do you view this loneliness as you've articulated it as distinct enough from the mother subplot and more fundamental to the character that it actually is subtly presented?

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#10 Post by Brian C » Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:21 pm

DarkImbecile wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:02 pm
My one potential disagreement with your response was this (emphasis mine):
Brian C wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:55 am
It's the kind of loneliness that really damages a person and drives them to self-destruction, and the film manages to show this at the root of Callahan's addiction even without mentioning outright - maybe without him even really understanding - that this is what he's struggling with.
SpoilerShow
Did you not feel that the repeated references to the three — make that four — things he knows about his mother, along with his repeated attempts to find her and come to grips with her absence in his life, were a strong underlining of the point you make above? Or do you view this loneliness as you've articulated it as distinct enough from the mother subplot and more fundamental to the character that it actually is subtly presented?
Somewhere in between - I don't think feelings of abandonment are necessarily the same thing as loneliness, although the two can certainly go hand in hand.

Or put another way, I think he could have been feeling all the same things even if he hadn't been adopted. Many non-adopted people do.

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#11 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Aug 01, 2018 10:13 pm

I thought this was magnificent, moving, and a profound love letter to the sort of openheartedness that Brian C got into above. When Van Sant's unembarrassed capacity for deeply empathic observation is clicking, he's really unstoppable. I hadn't seen it work so well since his arresting and heartbreaking shot choices in Milk, particularly those of Josh Brolin as that great film wore on, but of course his is a career littered with valid examples prior to it. There is one scene with Jack Black in this film, and another with Jonah Hill, that are going to stay with me for a very long time. How often do you get to type that sentence?

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#12 Post by domino harvey » Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:38 pm

I don't think much of Van Sant as a director, so I am not too interested in framing this within his oeuvre, but I thought the film was mostly successful at depicting the struggles of a specific alcoholic in his recovery. I liked that the film treats Phoenix's disability with the same skepticism as his group, and resists easy sentimentalization. That said, everything that works in this film involves the AA aspects and less so the wheelchair stuff. The film could have easily withstood another hour to flesh out the members of the pigpen (I mean, I spent half the movie wondering what Mark Webber was even doing in this, only for him to eventually have exactly one Big Scene which was probably the only time he said anything in the entire film). I did like little touches like the group of skaters picking up Phoenix in the street and instead of being snotty shits, treating him with believable kindness and interest. Ironically, the romance here with Mara is so unbelievable that it in an inverse of the usual biopic change, the film should have invented Phoenix being single!

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#13 Post by dda1996a » Thu Feb 07, 2019 2:05 am

Van Sant might just be the only director who's half filmography I really like and the other I downright hate.
Just to throw in gossip, this is the second film with Phoenix and Mara together who are also saying, was there no chemistry?

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#14 Post by Roger Ryan » Thu Feb 07, 2019 9:44 am

dda1996a wrote:
Thu Feb 07, 2019 2:05 am
...Just to throw in gossip, this is the second film with Phoenix and Mara together who are also saying, was there no chemistry?
And they were teamed a third time in Mary Magdalene!

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#15 Post by domino harvey » Thu Feb 07, 2019 11:17 am

Their chemistry was fine, their relationship just seems preposterous on a narrative level, regardless of if it actually happened

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Re: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018)

#16 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Feb 07, 2019 11:37 am

It is (in my view) the only major weakness in this film, you're right. The film would have been well served, if trying to tell this story in a biographically sound way, to at least acknowledge how strange it is instead of having it feel like an "oh, of course!" aside, like it happens all the time

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