Joaquin Phoenix’s Most Underrated Performance Is in This Moving Biopic

The Big Picture

  • Joaquin Phoenix’s versatility as an actor shines through in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot as he navigates the complexities of the protagonist’s life.
  • The film effectively portrays the destructive nature of alcoholism, making it clear that John Callahan’s drinking problem permeates every aspect of his existence.
  • Phoenix’s performance demonstrates how art can serve as a cathartic outlet for frustration and contribute to personal growth, as Callahan channels his experiences into cartoons.

Joaquin Phoenix has established himself as one of the industry’s greatest living actors because of his commitment to offbeat and unusual characters. What qualifies as great acting can mean different things depending on what a given genre requires, and Phoenix has done a great job at keeping his roles versatile. He has shown off his skills as a physical comedian in Buffalo Soldiers and Inherent Vice, explored the psychology of damaged characters in Joker and You Were Never Really Here, and dedicated himself to playing historical figures in Napoleon and Quills. Gus Van Sant’s 2018 biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot forced Phoenix to do all three of these things, even if it isn’t necessarily remembered as one of his best films. Although the film ran the risk of becoming a generic biopic, Phoenix’s highly underrated performance turned Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot into a hilarious, yet surprisingly moving exploration of the healing process.


Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot

On the rocky path to sobriety after a life-changing accident, John Callahan discovers the healing power of art, willing his injured hands into drawing hilarious, often controversial cartoons, which bring him a new lease on life.

Release Date
July 13, 2018

Gus Van Sant

Joaquin Phoenix, Jack Black, Rooney Mara, Jonah Hill


114 minutes

Drama, Comedy

Amazon Studios

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot tells the story of the cartoonist John Callahan, whose memoir of the same name served as the inspiration for the film. While he has a creative mind and is capable of beautiful writing, Callahan is a lifelong alcoholic and struggles to go more than a few moments without having a drink, and this lifestyle eventually leads to him becoming paralyzed after being a passenger in a drunk driving accident. Although the film uses a nonlinear narrative structure that incorporates flashes of Callahan’s future when he is already an established artist, Phoenix does a great job at setting up Callahan’s eventual accident within the first few moments. Scenes of Callahan wandering on the beach and anticipating his next drink imbue the film with an aura of tension. It’s evident that he will not be able to lead a life without consequences for much longer.

Films about alcoholism often struggle to give their characters defining characteristics beyond their addiction, but Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot does a great job of showing just how obstructive Callahan’s drinking is. There is very little learned about him in the scenes before his accident that doesn’t have to do with drinking —it’s what his entire life revolves around. Although the lack of seriousness with which Callahan treats his drinking seems shocking to his friends, Phoenix does a great job at showing why this is part of his accepted reality. He’s been digging himself in so deep for so long that he’s never considered what a life of sobriety even looks like. Like many of Van Sant’s best films, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot shows how its titular character misinterprets elements of his reality.

As John Callahan, Joaquin Phoenix Channels His Frustration Into Art

Callahan is forced to come to grips with reality very quickly when he is involved in a critical car crash that paralyzes him from the waist down. Although his friend Dexter (played by Jack Black in one of his most underrated roles) manages to escape from the incident without critical injury, Callahan is forced to change his entire lifestyle overnight. He never used to care about how he was perceived, but now he is being forced to take care of himself. After giving no regard to his health for years, Callahan simply views any assistance as a nagging annoyance.

Ironically, it’s Callahan’s frustration with the laborious nature of the healing process that ends up inspiring a period of creativity in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. Callahan grows irritated when people define him by his disability, and he prays to God for one of the first times in his life as he yearns for a life where he isn’t paralyzed. Phoenix does a great job at showing Callahan’s desperation, and how his desire to escape his circumstances ends up becoming slightly absurd and leads him to channel his feelings into cartoons. Callahan realizes that his bleak outlook on life isn’t doing him any favors if he simply keeps it bottled up. By drawing and writing darkly funny stories, Callahan is at least able to share his thoughts in a way that is constructive. Phoenix shows how artistry inspires Callahan to take more pride in himself.

Although Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot incorporates dark humor when dealing with Callahan’s cartoons and his odd outlook on life, it treats the healing process itself with the respect that it deserves. In one of his rare dramatic performances, Jonah Hill plays Callahan’s Alcoholic’s Anonymous sponsor, Donnie, who encourages Callahan to prioritize his health. Although many of the nursing staffers that care for Callahan take a tender approach to his healing, Donnie gives him the sort of plain-spoken, straightforward advice that he actually needs to hear. Donnie struggles with sobriety as well, and their relationship becomes a constructive one as they bond over their shared experiences.

Phoenix shows how Callahan adjusts to finally having a positive influence, and at first, it takes him by surprise. However, a later scene when Callahan reunites with Dexter underscores how much of a difference Donnie has made in Callahan’s life. Phoenix also has excellent chemistry with Rooney Mara, who co-starred with him in Mary Magdalene and Her. Mara portrays the physical therapist Annu, who takes care of Callahan and eventually becomes his lover. Annu becomes an inspirational figure within Callahan’s life, as his desire to appeal to her forces him to actually work on getting better.

While Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is guilty of playing into some clichés within the biopic genre, Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t treat Callahan as just a historical figure whose achievements need to be rattled off. He actually takes the time to define Callahan as a person, showing how he overcame personal demons to create art that brought joy to others. It’s a testament to Phoenix’s phenomenal performance that he was able to transform Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot from a potentially mediocre film into a great one.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is available to stream on Prime Video in the U.S.

Watch Now

#Joaquin #Phoenixs #Underrated #Performance #Moving #Biopic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *