After a decade of lukewarm critical reception, director Gus Van Sant makes his triumphant return to form with Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, a film stacked with talent such as Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Rooney Mara, Carrie Brownstein and Kim Gordon. With so many high-profile actors, there’s always a risk that in squeezing all the actors into a film’s tight runtime, none of them will truly get a chance to shine, or perhaps even worse, the film spreads itself too thin, prioritizing actors receiving significant screen time over telling a story in the best way possible. Thankfully there was no such problem in Don’t Worry. Phoenix acts as the anchor of the film with each supporting actor using their available screen time to make a powerful impression without overstaying their welcome. Both Black and Hill made me cry out of genuine sadness at different points in the story, so it’s safe to say the film is something special.

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Don’t Worry is a biopic about John Callahan (Phoenix), a paraplegic alcoholic who became an acclaimed, yet also widely disliked, cartoonist. As you can imagine, the film starts off heavy and dark, so, being unfamiliar with Callahan’s story I wasn’t sure how this movie would end. Thankfully, the film is presented in a non-linear fashion, unhinged in time, showing the audience glimpses of Callahan’s bright future, which made the first half of the film far easier to get through emotionally for me. I also found that at the tail end of the film, flashbacks to the lowest points in Callahan’s life helped put in perspective just how far he had come over the course of his difficult journey to sobriety, fulfilling work, and something close to happiness.

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Phoenix shines in Don’t Worry, which would’ve turned out entirely differently had any other actor portrayed Callahan, a role that could have easily been reduced to cliches. Phoenix has the incredible ability to inhabit completely broken men, but here we get the rare opportunity to watch one of these broken men heal themselves, which is a cathartic experience for any fan of Phoenix’s previous work, as his characters tend to self-sabotage. The film also gives  Hill and Black the opportunity to showcase their famous comedic talents while also providing roles with greater depth and emotional range than these actors usually take. Hill plays a wildly contradictory, yet surprisingly effective AA group leader Donnie, often appearing aloof or frustrated even though he truly does want his “piglets,” as he calls them, to succeed. Black’s role is much smaller, yet equally important to the trajectory of the story, acting as the catalyst for Callahan’s descent to rock bottom.

It would be an understatement to say that Van Sant has a penchant for sap, but in the final act of Don’t Worry he strikes the perfect tone, focusing on positivity, empathy and forgiveness while also accepting that life is a constant battle against the things that bring us down.

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