The whimsical biopic of cartoonist John Callahan is weighed down with sentimentby James Robins
That was the case in Good Will Hunting, Van Sant’s most forgiving and beloved work, and it’s true of this biopic of John Callahan, a famously dry-witted cartoonist from Portland who spent most of his life as a quadriplegic and big drinker.
This whimsical, oddball film follows Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It flashes back to his pickled days and explores his addiction, but the momentum is progressively optimistic and positive.
Along the recovery route, he picks up new friends: Swedish nurse Annu (Rooney Mara), who is so ethereal you expect her to be a fictional invention, and campy AA sponsor Donnie. He’s played by Jonah Hill, once a staple of schlocky American pot-comedy, now a frequent upstager of leading men. Hill’s flamboyant performance is one of the best parts of the film.
Van Sant seems to relish Callahan’s mordant sense of humour, and much of Don’t Worry shares his surreal irreverence. Some of his cartoons are animated into the action, including one showing a blob of bacteria morphing into a goofy amphibian, then a dinosaur, a Neanderthal and, finally, a man in a suit standing before a microphone saying, “I’d like to thank all those who made it possible for me to be here tonight.”
And then we actually get that line as Callahan appears triumphant before a cheering crowd, marking the film’s decline into squishy sentiment. “You’re doing an extraordinary thing,” Callahan is told by a supporter. Well, that may be so, and tales of resilience like this ought to be full of praise for their subjects, but Callahan always poked fun at his own condition and expected no special treatment. I suspect he would have got to the end of this biopic and scoffed at its earnestness.
IN CINEMAS NOW
This article was first published in the October 13, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
Weight-loss surgery is becoming more common, but lifestyle and attitude changes are needed for long-term success.Read more
Māori food champions Kasey and Karena Bird share traditional family recipes that are ideal for Matariki.Read more
The MP made world headlines when she cycled to hospital to give birth. She talks about how this put her and what she stands for in the spotlight.Read more
The fourth Toy Story instalment is clever, enjoyable and refreshingly weird.Read more
In the wake of data-privacy scandals, Apple is beefing up protection for owners of its devices.Read more
We are pretty good about paying our taxes here, so why would we willingly go along with avoiding GST?Read more
New Zealand retailers hit by a GST rort that has been going on for at least two years hope officials, Trade Me, ministers and even customers will...Read more