Joaquin Phoenix reteams with director Gus Van Sant for this week’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot. In the movie, based on a true story, Phoenix plays John Callahan, a man who one night gets in a car accident that puts him to a wheelchair. Despite this, he’s reluctant to seek help for the alcohol abuse that lead to that accident and only enters treatment at the behest of his girlfriend Annu (Rooney Mara).
When he does finally begin a program he meets Donny (Jonah Hill) and the two form a bond despite John’s bad attitude toward the whole affair. Along the way, though, he realizes he has a knack for drawing edgy satirical cartoons that soon spread across the country, bringing him some amount of recognition.
The first and only poster wants to sell you mostly on the ensemble and so uses photos of the four main players – Phoenix, Hill, Mara and Black – placed within a frame to show you who’s involved in the story. It’s clear from the hair and clothes that the action takes place in the 70s or thereabouts, or at least that that’s the kind of vibe everyone’s going for. Not much else here except for an illustration at the top like those created by John and the inclusion of the Sundance logo to let everyone know it was screened there.
We’re introduced to John as the trailer opens with him explaining how he has been drinking since a very young age. Left unsaid is where he is or how he wound up in the wheelchair, but it can be safely assumed he’s in rehab and that the drinking resulted in some sort of accident. John is obviously still angry about things and isn’t thrilled to be where he is. There are brief flashes to scenes that offer bits and pieces of backstory but nothing really that fleshes out the situations significantly for the audience.
That makes Phoenix’s performance – as well as Hill’s – the main value proposition for the audience. We’re asked to get on board with another fully immersive performance from the former, something that has been his go-to for several years now, the hook on which many of his film’s campaigns have been hung on. Unfortunately that comes at the expense of Mara, who’s barely seen here at all.
In the second trailer John is recounting his last day of being able to walk, a day that ended with the accident that paralyzed him. Most of what comes next is John interacting with Donny and the rest of his support group as well as him finding the inspiration to continue on as an artist. Mara gets a little more to do here, but not much. It’s a bit more upbeat and lighthearted than the first trailer, which is nice as well.
Online and Social
There’s not much on the barebones official website from Amazon Studios, just the usual sorts of information that takes a backseat to the desire to sell tickets. The one exception is an “Illustration Contest” encouraging people to submit artwork inspired by Callahan’s for the chance to win a movie-themed prize pack. Links to the movie’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles are at the bottom of the page.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Not much that I’ve seen outside of some promoted posts on social media to help spread the trailers.
Media and Publicity
A first look still from the film was shared at the same time it was announced it would premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, appearing on quite a few “must see” lists before the festival began. It was soon after given a release date of May, just a few months following that premiere.
Later on Van Sant spoke about why he didn’t cast a quadriplegic actor in the lead role. While the “he’s not in the wheelchair the whole story” perspective makes sense, it’s less believable that he simply couldn’t find someone else. Later on the director would talk about how this movie fits into some themes he’s hit many times over the course of his career.
A promo video from Amazon Studios acknowledged the fact this was one of two films starring Phoenix it’s putting out this year.
I don’t have anything objective to point to about the campaign that doesn’t work or which shouldn’t bring in audiences who are fans of Phoenix, Van Sant and the rest of the cast. That doesn’t mean I don’t have some bones to pick, though:
- Why, as we collectively chastise Scarlett Johansson for taking on roles meant for minorities and other groups, are we not similarly taking Phoenix down several pegs for playing a quadriplegic? I understand he’s not in that condition for the whole story, but surely there was some workaround available. Phoenix and Van Sant have both made movies that pushed the realms of storytelling before, why are they being given a pass for not doing so now?
- Why can’t Hollywood figure out what to do with Rooney Mara – as well as several other actresses – other than cast her as the supportive girlfriend to a self-destructive and troubled man?
- Why is Phoenix so reliably uninteresting in everything he does?
- Why were there no better options chosen for a poster? This is a movie about an artist and they used a photo montage.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.