A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot is a biopic about irreverent cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix). As directed by Gus Van Sant, it's loose, freewheeling, and enjoyable, with strong supporting performances. It's also very mature, dealing frankly and frequently with alcohol abuse, alcoholism, craving, withdrawals, and treatment. Characters also smoke. Language includes constant use of "f--k," plus "s--t," "c--k," "t-ts," and more. There are a few brief but graphic sex scenes: Women are shown grinding and moaning, and there's oral sex, a pornographic pen, and explicit sex talk. Topless women and naked bottoms are also briefly shown. As for violence, characters shout and argue fairly often, and there are reckless wheelchair crashes. A more serious car crash is depicted via animated cartoon.
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What's the story?
In DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT, cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) recounts his life story. He's abandoned by his mother, is raised as an orphan, and begins drinking at age 13. He eventually becomes a full-fledged alcoholic, caring more about his next drink than anything else. At a party, Callahan meets Dexter (Jack Black), who promises to take him to an even better party; instead, they drive drunk and have an accident that leaves Callahan a quadriplegic, with limited movement in his arms. In the hospital, he meets physical therapist Annu (Rooney Mara), who helps him find his way, and then an AA sponsor, Donnie (Jonah Hill), who teaches him about the 12 steps. To express himself, Callahan starts drawing edgy, sometimes near-blasphemous cartoons -- and, to his delight, they're published. But sobriety and success mean nothing unless Callahan can identify the source of his pain.
Is it any good?
Director Gus Van Sant takes a dizzying approach to this biopic, using shifting timelines and an anarchic tone to tell Callahan's story, though supporting actors like Black and Hill come out sharpest. The kind of material tackled in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot is usually considered awards bait and thus treated with high-minded, noble seriousness, but Van Sant bathes his film in an orange, sun-streamed light, giving it an appealing looseness that's uncharacteristic in his work. Even though it has much in common with Van Sant's last biopic, Milk (2008), it's far more rambunctious.
Scenes of Callahan zooming around at top speed in his electric wheelchair -- Phoenix's face stoically taking in the breeze -- are exhilarating, even if Phoenix himself seems a little too serious for the role. He doesn't seem capable of coming up with Callahan's irreverent cartoons, which Van Sant animates and uses as transitions, and his performance only emphasizes the character's innate selfishness. (Robin Williams, who had been in Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, originally hoped to play the part.) Mara doesn't have much to do in her role, but both Black and Hill are miraculous -- Black emotionally breaking down, and Hill flashing a kind of rock-star confidence in his eyes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot depicts alcoholism. Is the movie sympathetic to those who suffer from addiction? Does the movie make drinking look appealing or cool in any way? Are there realistic consequences?
Is John Callahan a role model? Why or why not?
How does this movie compare to other biopics that you've seen about artists or about people with disabilities?
Does the movie's strong language affect the storytelling? Would you have preferred that there be less of it?
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