<p>“I just realised I didn’t want to go to parties or play tennis anymore.” We begin Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot as a middle aged, upper class woman matter of factly tells her story of a mid life crisis, Valium prescription and alcoholism to an AA meeting in a room of bobbing heads. </p>
“I just realised I didn’t want to go to parties or play tennis anymore.” We begin Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot as a middle aged, upper class woman matter of factly tells her story of a mid life crisis, Valium prescription and alcoholism to an AA meeting in a room of bobbing heads. Her reflections on a sudden, acute loss of meaning speak to quintessentially “21st century America” themes: addiction, loneliness, and the search for meaning and fulfilment in a world where everything is supposedly at our doorstep.
The film is based on the true story of John Callahan, the Oregon slacker who spends most of his formative years drinking heavily and making irreverent jokes. Yet when a fatal car crash on a drunken night out renders him paralysed for life, Callahan is forced to face himself and his own poor decisions. To do so, he begins attending AA meetings run by Jonah Hill playing the charismatic, eccentric Donnie, with a slew of eclectic characters.
Jonah Hills’ performance as Donnie proves once again that he has well and truly outgrown his days of Superbad and related stoner comedy films made by Judd Apatow, showing himself to be darkly funny, tender and often times moving (yes, I cried, several times). His encouragement of the continued sobriety of his sponsors, who he terms his “Piglets,” could border on cliché, but his wry sense of humour and irreverence carries the film out of the more obvious cinematic tropes.
Throughout the film, I couldn’t help but think of David Foster Wallace’s musings on addiction in Infinite Jest, of the strange, existential need humans have to fill themselves, to overcome lostness. For Callahan, much of his life is spent needing booze. He tells his AA meeting this is a reaction to the feelings of abandonment from being an adopted child, and it is an anxious, hateful, vacuuming need. But the other characters in the film display this need, too.
“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism,” Foster Wallace writes in This is Water, “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”
Donnie has grown up with generations of inherited wealth, and his house is ornate and dripping with chandeliers and tapestries. But he laughs at how “stupid,” all of it is, the emptiness reflected in the fact despite his wealth, he still turned to drink.
Eventually, as fans of Callahan know, he discovers drawing and becomes somewhat of a cult icon for his wry, heavily sarcastic, oftentimes controversial cartoons. The drawings become his passion as he continues on his path of sobriety. But rather than a simplistic narrative of man-becomes-sober-and-realises-complete-happiness, Gus Van Sant turns away from simplistic, feel good narratives.
The ending we are left uplifts, but it does so with kindness, reflection and a little bit of melancholia. Prepare yourself for sharp, witty dialogue, quirky characters, and if you’re a sucker like me, a few wholesome tears.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is in cinemas Thursday 27 September.