The first trailer for Gus Van Sant’s new movie, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot—maybe the longest title since The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford—was released yesterday. It looks very good. The movie stars Joaquin Phoenix as cartoonist John Callahan—sample of work here— and Jonah Hill as Callahan’s sponsor, and also Rooney Mara as his girlfriend. It’s got a real Gus Van Sant vibe (close-ups of people sweating and/or crying), and what looks to be yet another outstanding Joaquin Phoenix performance. In fact, his performance looks so good I wonder why this has a May release date, and not something more obviously award friendly in the fall.
Unless they’re trying to avoid the appearance of actors portraying people with disabilities for Oscar (aka the “Simple Jack Maneuver”)? John Callahan was a quadriplegic, and the movie looks like it deals mostly with his recovery from alcoholism and subsequent discovery of his ability to draw cartoons by grasping a pen in both hands. Callahan’s story is pretty great—and his cartoons can be bleak as f*ck but they’re funny—and it’s a good counterpoint to the usual disability narrative that we see, which is that a spinal cord injury is the end of all things.
I refer you to Uproxx’s Brian Grubb on this topic: “What doesn’t get put into movies as often, and what I’d love to start seeing more of, is, like, a regular person with a disability.” He Won’t Get Far appears to be mostly concerned with Callahan’s alcoholism and recovery and discovering a talent and life after injury. (And many of his cartoons deal with not patronizing people with disabilities, so it will be interesting to see how that translates to the film’s tone.) Undoubtedly there will be an emotional arc involving his recovery, but ultimately Callahan’s story is one of life, getting on with getting on. That’s the counterpoint missing in the pop culture disability narrative.