Gus Van Sant Remembers His Plan for ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ Including Offers to Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio

The director tells IndieWire why he put an end to his version of the classic gay film, and reveals he was offered “Call Me by Your Name.”

Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” is perfect just the way it is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy imagining what Gus Van Sant would have done with the project. The Oscar-winning auteur behind the New Queer Cinema classic “My Own Private Idaho” and the more-commercial “Good Will Hunting” has been offered many films throughout his career, including “Brokeback Mountain.” His latest film, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” follows the life of eccentric Portland cartoonist John Callahan, played by his “To Die For” star Joaquin Phoenix.

It’s long been reported that both Van Sant and Pedro Almodóvar were initially approached to direct the groundbreaking”Brokeback,” but Van Sant recently told IndieWire why his vision ultimately wasn’t right — and which A-list actors turned down the film.

“Nobody wanted to do it,” Van Sant said. “I was working on it, and I felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn’t working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no.”

“Yes, all those young gentlemen (at the time) turned down the project, for various reasons,” “Brokeback Mountain” producer and screenwriter Diana Ossana confirmed to IndieWire via email. Ossana produced the film with James Schamus for Focus Features, and adapted the script with Larry McMurtry from a short story by Annie Proulx.

Brad Pitt Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt

Rob Latour/Stephen Lovekin/REX/Shutterstock

“The original story, which was in The New Yorker, was so beautiful and simple, and Larry had turned it into something that resembled ‘The Last Picture Show,'” Van Sant recalled, referencing the 1971 classic also co-written by McMurtry. “Which was really good if you were thinking along certain lines … I was thinking more like ‘Gerry,’ ‘Elephant,’ ‘Last Days.’ I kind of wanted to go back to the simplest view of the short story, which I couldn’t do … I didn’t really want to go and talk Larry and Diana out of what they had created, because it was great.”

When asked if his version might have been less commercial than the finished product, Van Sant said: “It probably wouldn’t have been.”

“Gus’ version would have followed our screenplay, which is also how Ang [Lee] shot the film,” Ossana said. “Gus arrived at our door five days after we sent the script out into the world. He was eager and passionate about it.”

In addition to being one of the most financially and critically successful LGBTQ films of all time, “Brokeback Mountain” broke barriers for casting heterosexual stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as gay romantic leads. Both actors earned Oscar nominations for their performances, exploding the long-held belief that playing gay would irreversibly hurt a leading man’s career.

Brokeback Mountain

Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain”

Focus/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

“Casting Ennis in particular was the ultimate hurdle,” Ossana said. As the more introverted and repressed of the two characters, Ennis (Ledger) was the more challenging role.

For reasons still unclear even to Van Sant, the difficulty of the casting process seems to have dampened his enthusiasm. “What I could have done, and what I probably should have done, was cast more unknowns, not worried about who were the lead actors,” he said. “I was not ready. I’m not sure why. There was just sort of a hiccup on my part. There was something off with myself, I guess, whatever was going on.”

“Brokeback Mountain” is not the only gay film Van Sant nearly directed. He was also offered “Call Me by Your Name” by a producer friend of his. “I think in that case in particular … I don’t think it would have panned out the way it did if I had directed it. I think it was great,” he said of the 2017 film, directed by Luca Guadagnino. “I like the film. I think the sentimentality and the ending of the film was something that probably wasn’t in the book in the same way. It maybe was in the book, but I think that he got something really great that I think is very… I’m not sure I would have ended up in the same place, so it probably wouldn’t have done as well.”

Representatives for DiCaprio, Pitt, and Phillippe did not immediately respond to requests for comment. “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is currently playing in theaters. 

‘Eighth Grade’ Lights Up Indie Box Office With Best Per Screen Average of 2018

So far this summer, the indie box office has been defined by documentaries. But now scripted films are finally making their mark as A24’s “Eighth Grade” sets a new record for the best per screen average of 2018, while Annapurna’s “Sorry to Bother You” begins its wide run.

Selling out screenings at its four locations in Los Angeles and New York, “Eighth Grade” has gotten off to a huge start with $252,284, earning a per screen average (PSA) of just over $63,000. That beats out Fox Searchlight’s “Isle of Dogs” for the top PSA of the year, as the Wes Anderson stop-motion film earned a $60,000 average back in March.

Also Read: ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ Spooks Up $44 Million Opening at Box Office

Directed by YouTuber Bo Burnham in his feature film debut, “Eighth Grade” follows an awkward 13-year-old named Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she navigates the final days of what has been a very difficult time in eighth grade. Debuting at Sundance this year, the film has earned critical acclaim for its unflinching look at the difficulties of entering adolescence in the age of social media and vlogging. It currently has a 99 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Sorry to Bother You,” meanwhile, expanded to 805 screens after earning $1 million in limited release. This weekend, the film beat tracker expectations and earned $4.3 million, pushing its total to $5.3 million. Like “Eighth Grade,” the darkly humorous satire is a directorial debut — this one comes from hip-hop artist and music video director Boots Riley — and has earned strong word of mouth to finish seventh among all films. The movie will expand to over 1,000 screens next weekend.

Also Read: Can the 2018 Box Office Keep Up Its Record-Breaking Momentum?

Also earning a strong debut this weekend is Gus Van Sant’s latest film, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” Released by Amazon Studios, the biopic stars Joaquin Phoenix as alcoholic cartoonist John Callahan, who became a paraplegic after a car accident and who struggles through treatment for his addiction. Also starring Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black, the film earned $83,120 for a per screen average of $20,780.  It has an 80 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.

While dramas had their moment this weekend, documentaries continued to bring in strong numbers. Roadside Attractions/Miramax’s “Whitney” earned $535,385 to bring its 10-day total to $2.3 million. Neon’s “Three Identical Strangers” added $1.1 million in its third weekend for a total of $2.5 million, while Focus’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” crossed the $15 million mark in its sixth weekend as it added $1.8 million.

Finally, Bleecker Street’s “Leave No Trace” expanded to 311 theaters in its third weekend and made $1.1 million for a $2.1 million total, while Gunpowder & Sky’s “Hearts Beat Loud” crossed the $2 million mark in its sixth weekend, adding $131,000.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ Sinks Teeth Into Box Office With $44 Million

Can the 2018 Box Office Keep Up Its Record-Breaking Momentum?

So far this summer, the indie box office has been defined by documentaries. But now scripted films are finally making their mark as A24’s “Eighth Grade” sets a new record for the best per screen average of 2018, while Annapurna’s “Sorry to Bother You” begins its wide run.

Selling out screenings at its four locations in Los Angeles and New York, “Eighth Grade” has gotten off to a huge start with $252,284, earning a per screen average (PSA) of just over $63,000. That beats out Fox Searchlight’s “Isle of Dogs” for the top PSA of the year, as the Wes Anderson stop-motion film earned a $60,000 average back in March.

Directed by YouTuber Bo Burnham in his feature film debut, “Eighth Grade” follows an awkward 13-year-old named Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she navigates the final days of what has been a very difficult time in eighth grade. Debuting at Sundance this year, the film has earned critical acclaim for its unflinching look at the difficulties of entering adolescence in the age of social media and vlogging. It currently has a 99 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Sorry to Bother You,” meanwhile, expanded to 805 screens after earning $1 million in limited release. This weekend, the film beat tracker expectations and earned $4.3 million, pushing its total to $5.3 million. Like “Eighth Grade,” the darkly humorous satire is a directorial debut — this one comes from hip-hop artist and music video director Boots Riley — and has earned strong word of mouth to finish seventh among all films. The movie will expand to over 1,000 screens next weekend.

Also earning a strong debut this weekend is Gus Van Sant’s latest film, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” Released by Amazon Studios, the biopic stars Joaquin Phoenix as alcoholic cartoonist John Callahan, who became a paraplegic after a car accident and who struggles through treatment for his addiction. Also starring Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black, the film earned $83,120 for a per screen average of $20,780.  It has an 80 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.

While dramas had their moment this weekend, documentaries continued to bring in strong numbers. Roadside Attractions/Miramax’s “Whitney” earned $535,385 to bring its 10-day total to $2.3 million. Neon’s “Three Identical Strangers” added $1.1 million in its third weekend for a total of $2.5 million, while Focus’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” crossed the $15 million mark in its sixth weekend as it added $1.8 million.

Finally, Bleecker Street’s “Leave No Trace” expanded to 311 theaters in its third weekend and made $1.1 million for a $2.1 million total, while Gunpowder & Sky’s “Hearts Beat Loud” crossed the $2 million mark in its sixth weekend, adding $131,000.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Hotel Transylvania 3' Sinks Teeth Into Box Office With $44 Million

Can the 2018 Box Office Keep Up Its Record-Breaking Momentum?

As Dwayne Johnson and Joaquin Phoenix Play Disabled Roles, An Overlooked Community Debates Representation

They are just the latest two actors who — like many past Oscar winners — have been given roles that could have gone to disabled performers.

Today is a rare day in Hollywood: We have two major stars, Dwayne Johnson and Joaquin Phoenix, releasing films in which they play disabled characters. In “Skyscraper,” Johnson’s alter ego undergoes a below-knee amputation following an opening-scene explosion; “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” casts thrice Oscar-nominated Phoenix as John Callahan, the late artist who became quadraplegic in a car accident.

On-screen representation of disabilities is so infrequent it can seem like a fluke. According to the last U.S. Census, 19 percent of Americans have a disability, but a 2017 study from USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative found that just 2.7 percent of all 2016 speaking roles included a discernible disability. So two in one week is progress, right?

Some disability rights advocates say: Nope. “We are over continually having non-disabled people trusted to tell our stories more than actual disabled actors,” said Rebecca Cokley, senior fellow for disability at the Center for American Progress. “It’s maddening and it’s inauthentic.”

Actors playing characters with physical or mental disabilities as a bid for Oscar attention is so familiar it’s a trope, as “Tropic Thunder” satirized back in 2008. And, it often works: Three Best Actor winners this decade (Colin Firth, Matthew McConaughey, and Eddie Redmayne) stemmed from roles representing real-life men with disabilities, while this year’s Best Picture victor and most-nominated title, “The Shape of Water,” starred Sally Hawkins as a woman made mute after a childhood trauma.

However, Cokely said that able-bodied celebrities who accept these jobs “[do] not know the actual lived experience of disabled people. Telling me that they spent time at a camp for kids with disabilities is not the same as being shouted, ‘Midget! Midget! Midget!’ when I go to pick up my dry-cleaning,” or “going for 20 job interviews, and not being able to get in the door.”

Read More: ‘Skyscraper’ Review: Dwayne Johnson’s Latest Action Vehicle Is Totally Stupid and Eager to Please

Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper

Johnson in “Skyscraper”

Universal

“Skyscraper” is not the first blockbuster to include a disabled character. The highest-grossing film of all time (number two when adjusted for inflation), “Avatar,” featured Sam Worthington in the lead role as an ex-Marine who uses a wheelchair; Worthington will return for each of four upcoming sequels. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” bucked trends casting Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask, a character who was not disabled in the source comics. (The two-time “Game of Thrones” Emmy winner is the lone disabled actor with a career most of his able-bodied peers would envy). That film and three more in the series co-starred Patrick Stewart as Professor X, who uses a wheelchair later in life.

BREAKING: Grateful to share this big news. Universal Studios and @Legendary Pictures have declared JULY 13th 2018 SKYSCRAPER weekend. Massive scale of a movie we’ve been developing for almost two years and we start shooting this August – in CHINA. Our script, written and to be directed by Rawson Thurber, focuses on the world’s largest skyscraper – that’s on fire. A towering inferno almost a mile into the sky and my wife and kids are trapped on the top floor. My character is a disabled US War Vet and former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader. This character is inspired by the thousands of disabled US veterans and war heroes I’ve had the honor of shaking hands with over the years. This character is also an homage to the every day man and woman who, despite all odds, will dig deep and do everything possible to protect and save their family. Research for this film has been a real education for me (and that’s saying a lot considering my horrible freshman year GPA) from meeting with the world’s top skyscraper architects to spending amazing time with our US combat and disabled vets. Good thing I’m not afraid of heights. But at 4,000ft it’s a different story. Let’s get to work. #CHINA #SevenBucksProds #FlynnPicturesCo #Zhao #SKYSCRAPER JULY 13th 2018

A post shared by therock (@therock) on

Phoenix is considered a possible (though unlikely) Best Actor Academy Award prospect for “Don’t Worry,” despite The Ruderman Family Foundation calling his casting “a mistake.” IndieWire published a 2017 list of 59 actors who earned nominations as disabled characters (in work ranging from “My Left Foot” to “Forrest Gump”). Of them, only two — both winners for their film debuts — shared their counterparts’ disabilities: Marlee Matlin (“Children of a Lesser God,” 1988), who is deaf; and Harold Russell (“The Best Years of Our Lives,” 1947), a veteran who lost both hands during World War II. On the opposite end of the critical spectrum, Razzie champ “Battleship” did recruit retired Army colonel and double amputee Gregory D. Gadson for the cast.

Per the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, people with disabilities are the third-largest market in the U.S., with $544 billion in annual disposable income. Still, 2016’s Ruderman White Paper On Employment Of Actors With Disabilities in Television surveyed 31 shows, and reported four disabled actors, less than two percent of everyone who appeared on-camera. Among them were Michael Fowler of ABC’s “Speechless,” who has cerebral palsy, and Darryl “Chill” Mitchell of CBS’ “NCIS: New Orleans,” who was paralyzed after a motorcycle accident a decade into his acting career. More often, such TV roles also go to non-disabled performers (think Terry O’Quinn on “Lost” — or his co-star on that series, Harold Perrineau, on “Claws”).

"Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot" Joaquin Phoenix

Phoenix in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”

Amazon Studios

Two decades ago, actor and singer/songwriter John Paizis founded Performing Arts Studio West, which provides coaching, career management, and on-location assistance to actors, musicians, and dancers with disabilities. PASW now supports about 90 performers, and to date, its alumni — including “Don’t Worry” co-star Santina Muha — have booked approximately 1,800 roles.

Paizis believes that including characters with disabilities — regardless of who plays them — is always a positive: “I think very, very good inroads have been made over the past five years,” especially in television, where he has become more aware of networks hosting diversity showcases.

“What I take issue with is when people are saying, ‘Well, we need to protest this movie, because the lead actor should have been someone with a disability,’” he said. “You’ve got to take those from Step A to Step B to Step C. Because there really aren’t any megastars who already have that, especially with physical disabilities.”

Russell Boast, president of the Casting Society of America and head of its 25-member Inclusion & Diversity Committee, wants to cultivate those megastars. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, now we need diversity everywhere. Who’s got a wheelchair user?’ In terms of the CSA and the world of television right now, I must get eight to 10 calls a week being like, ‘Where do I find—?’”

On January 7, 2018, across 15 locations nationwide, CSA hosted an open call for talent with disabilities. A thousand people were seen. “I did it to see if the talent pool existed, which it absolutely does,” he said. “I did it to show the world that these performers are out there and hungry and need to work. But I also did it to start at the beginning and say, ‘Where are the 10 performers with disabilities who, in five years time, could have a name like The Rock if we started working with them now?'”

Risk-averse film executives are hesitant to cast unknown entities — a “Skyscraper”-size vehicle would only go to someone with Johnson’s box-office stature. Lauren Appelbaum, communications director at RespectAbility, believes studios should institute a policy like the NFL’s 15-year-old Rooney Rule, mandating teams interview minority candidates for top coaching and operations posts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YtFdS90EKchttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YtFdS90EKc

“Having an authentic person with a disability adds to the movie,” she said, citing C.J. Jones of multiple 2018 Oscar nominee “Baby Driver,” and Maisie Sly of winning Best Short Film (Live Action) “The Silent Child.” The same goes for Millicent Simmonds, the deaf teen scene stealer of surprise hit “A Quiet Place,” and the young adults with Down syndrome who comprise the A&E reality show “Born This Way” (the three-time Emmy winner that received its 10th nomination Thursday). “There is this thirst within Hollywood for more creative stories, unique stories, and being able to accurately portray the lives of people with disabilities fits into those.”

On one point, representatives of the disability community are united: Every time an A-list actor assumes the role of a disabled person, members of the community should be integrated into the production as much as possible. “Give them opportunities to have just a day-player role, or something that the storyline is not about the disability, because that’s also one of the mistakes that we keep making,” said Boast. “As long as you are inclusive, then you can cast whoever you want, in whatever capacity you want.”

In March, RespectAbility launched a Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit advising creatives on terminology and etiquette, and also providing referrals for hiring disabled actors and crew members (who should be accounted for in inclusion riders). Said Appelbaum, “When people work with people with disabilities, they’re going to be more likely to think to include people with disabilities in the pieces that they do.”

Joaquin Phoenix Teams With Gus Van Sant; Rob Reiner Gives ’Shock And Awe’ – Specialty B.O. Preview

Joaquin Phoenix stars in his second Specialty release in the last few months with Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot, with Jonah Hill and Rooney Mara. Amazon Studios is opening the title in several locations in New York and Los Angeles…

Joaquin Phoenix stars in his second Specialty release in the last few months with Gus Van Sant's Don't Worry He Won't Get Far On Foot, with Jonah Hill and Rooney Mara. Amazon Studios is opening the title in several locations in New York and Los Angeles ahead of a wider roll out. The title will likely headline a fairly busy weekend of Specialty newcomers given the tentpole season. Rob Reiner put up his own money to finance, in part, his latest directorial effort Shock And A…

Why Gus Van Sant Intentionally Makes Filming Scenes Difficult

Gus Van Sant was in a reflective mood Wednesday night at the Arclight Hollywood premiere for his dark comedy-drama, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” The director noted that it took him over 20 years to get the film made,…

Gus Van Sant was in a reflective mood Wednesday night at the Arclight Hollywood premiere for his dark comedy-drama, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” The director noted that it took him over 20 years to get the film made, dating back to the late Robin Williams telling him that he had optioned […]

Maui Fest Unspools Eclectic Slate While Neighboring Volcano Erupts in Distance

The Maui Film Festival celebrates its 19th anniversary this year, and, despite taking place in an ever-more crowded calendar of summer film fests, its popularity continues to grow. The event attracts locals and mainlanders alike, and draws both casual …

The Maui Film Festival celebrates its 19th anniversary this year, and, despite taking place in an ever-more crowded calendar of summer film fests, its popularity continues to grow. The event attracts locals and mainlanders alike, and draws both casual fans and ardent cineastes with its unique mixture of sun, sand and life-affirming cinema. And this […]

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’ Trailer: Joaquin Phoenix and Jonah Hill Make an Excellent Duo

Gus Van Sant directs this unconventional biopic about the life of controversial cartoonist John Callahan.

Joaquin Phoenix has already had one incredible performance hit the big screen this year thanks to Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” and the actor is set to dazzle us again in Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” The film marks the first time Phoenix and Van Sant have worked together since 1995’s “To Die For.”

“Don’t Worry” is based on John Callahan’s memoir of the same name. Phoenix plays the controversial cartoonist as he struggles with alcoholism and recovers from a car accident that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. The supporting cast includes Rooney Mara, Jonah Hill, and Jack Black.

Van Sant debuted the drama at Sundance earlier this year, where Phoenix instantly became an early contender for the Oscars. The actor gives a transformative performance in the lead role, but it’s really Jonah Hill who walks away with the film. Hill plays Phoenix’s A.A. sponsor Donnie, and it’s a perfectly calibrated supporting performance, one that makes a lasting impression and leaves you wanting to know more about the character.

“Don’t Worry” opens in theaters July 13. Watch the official trailer below.

Amazon Drops Trailer For Gus Van Sant’s ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot’ – CinemaCon

Props to Amazon Studios at CinemaCon. Unlike other studios who drop their whole slate before the press and exhibitors, then hold back on releasing key trailers promptly after, Amazon is providing a look at Gus Van Sant’s latest title which world …

Props to Amazon Studios at CinemaCon. Unlike other studios who drop their whole slate before the press and exhibitors, then hold back on releasing key trailers promptly after, Amazon is providing a look at Gus Van Sant’s latest title which world premiered at Sundance. The movie opens on July 13. Amazon, which now distributes its own movies under distrib chief Mark Boxer, held a lunch today at Caesar’s Palace where they’re showing off this year’s slate. Don't Worry is…

Claire Danes’ ‘A Kid Like Jake’ to Open, Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Don’t Worry’ to Close San Francisco Film Festival

Claire Danes’ family drama “A Kid Like Jake” will open the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 4. The festival also announced that its closing night film will be Joaquin Phoenix’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” which will screen on April 17. The 61-year-old festival, organized through the San Francisco Film […]

Claire Danes’ family drama “A Kid Like Jake” will open the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 4. The festival also announced that its closing night film will be Joaquin Phoenix’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” which will screen on April 17. The 61-year-old festival, organized through the San Francisco Film […]

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot’ Dashes To July

EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Studios is moving its Sundance Film Festival premiere Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot from May 11 to July 13.
Given the positive critical and audience reaction coming out of Park City for the Gus Van Sant-directed biopic, Amazon felt that a mid-summer launch was prime, much in the same way that they opened their 2017 Sundance pick-up The Big Sick last June under Lionsgate. That movie legged out to close to $43M at the domestic B.O. and notched an…

EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Studios is moving its Sundance Film Festival premiere Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot from May 11 to July 13. Given the positive critical and audience reaction coming out of Park City for the Gus Van Sant-directed biopic, Amazon felt that a mid-summer launch was prime, much in the same way that they opened their 2017 Sundance pick-up The Big Sick last June under Lionsgate. That movie legged out to close to $43M at the domestic B.O. and notched an…

How Gus Van Sant’s ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot’ Evolved From Robin Williams Option – Sundance Studio

Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot took its Sundance bow at the Eccles last night, introducing the Park City crowd to the tragic story behind Portland, OR cartoonist John Callahan. An alcoholic since his childhood years, Callahan was crippled in a drunken automobile accent, and soon after discovered a passion for cartooning that kept him going as he fought his alcoholism.
Van Sant was familiar with his fellow Portland native. “He was often on the streets…

Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot took its Sundance bow at the Eccles last night, introducing the Park City crowd to the tragic story behind Portland, OR cartoonist John Callahan. An alcoholic since his childhood years, Callahan was crippled in a drunken automobile accent, and soon after discovered a passion for cartooning that kept him going as he fought his alcoholism. Van Sant was familiar with his fellow Portland native. “He was often on the streets…

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’ Review: Joaquin Phoenix Endears in Gus Van Sant’s Meandering Biopic — Sundance 2018

Van Sant’s portrait of paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan is likable enough, if somewhat formless, but anything beats “Sea of Trees.”

Gus Van Sant has many modes as a filmmaker, from the avant-garde eeriness of “Elephant” to the sentimentalism of “Milk.” His meandering biopic “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” falls somewhere in the middle, collecting fragments from the life of button-pushing paraplegic Portland cartoonist John Callahan to create a likable portrait with minimal narrative. Reteaming with Joaquin Phoenix for the first time since “My Own Private Idaho,” Van Sant gets an endearing performance out of the actor in depicting his journey from depressed alcoholic to revered public artist, but the movie drifts through potent observations with a casual disinterest in pulling it together.

Van Sant initially wanted the story with Robin Williams attached to play Callahan, and it’s easy to see why: A carrot-topped wiseass who roams around town starting trouble, wearing a mischievous grin when he’s not in a deep funk, Callahan’s hilarious and melancholic at once. Van Sant, who adapted the screenplay from the late Callahan’s memoir, makes the cartoonist’s trajectory clear up front. In the opening minutes, the filmmaker cuts between the wheelchair-bound cartoonist recalling his life story in front of an appreciative local audience, and Callahan sharing the same recollections at an AA meeting. The connection is clear: There’s nothing phony about this successful man, who transformed his various setbacks into a story of self-empowerment.

Van Sant’s fragmentary approach reveals substantial investment in Callahan’s appeal, even as it has a distancing effect by establishing the outcome of his struggles while he’s in the midst of them. It’s a canny bargain on the director’s part, depriving the story of a traditional dramatic arc while foregrounding its remarkable character. To that end, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” displays the confidence of a filmmaker unwilling to stuff the material into more familiar beats. It’s a welcome reminder of his skill after the shocking misfire “Sea of Trees;” even as it fails to coalesce, it retains an intriguing centerpiece with Phoenix as its guide.

In sharing his life story, Callahan recalls how his mother gave him up for adoption at infancy, and the rejection led to a downward spiral of alcoholism in young adulthood. His pattern of self-destruction culminated in one fateful night, shown in prolonged flashback, when a drunken Callahan meets another sloshed partier (Jack Black, with a Burt Reynolds ‘stache and wiggling eyebrows galore) for a depraved night that culminates in a devastating car crash. Bedridden and virtually alone, Callahan’s forced to hit the pause button on using partying to block out his pain and confront his sorry state. “I just feel like I’m not going to have any future,” he moans.

A series of saviors show up right in time. First there’s Annu (Rooney Mara, blond, accented, and utterly wasted), a Swedish therapist who seems to embrace Callahan’s vulgar charm unquestioned, eventually becoming his lover. Then comes an even greater enigma: Donnie, Callahan’s sponsor, who coaches him to sobriety. A recovering alcoholic himself, Donnie’s an exuberant, gay Christian living off his inherited wealth and played just a few steps shy of caricature by a virtually unrecognizable Jonah Hill.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot

“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”

Sundance

The scene-stealing actor sometimes feels like the sort of broad caricature found in one of Callahan’s goofy line drawings, but he’s also the only person in Callahan’s life capable of forcing him to confront his problems. Many scenes of Callahan’s struggles, when he confronts various locals about his work or speaks to the ghost of his late mother, strain from heavy-handedness. By contrast, his dynamic with Donnie remains a source of intrigue throughout. As Callahan discovers an outlet for his snarky voice in cartoons, Donnie recognizes the extent to which Callahan uses humor as a defense mechanism — and steadily pushes him to unearth the root cause.

World-class cinematographer Christian Blauvelt tracks these scenes against the backdrop of Portland suburbia with an excellent recurring motif — the image of Callahan speeding through town on his wheelchair, searching for philosophical answers to his frustrations more than any physical destination. Van Sant wisely avoids more obvious dramatic moments, leaving the car crash and one major character’s death off screen, taking cues from Callahan’s version of the events.

Yet even as the movie makes a good case for his artistry, it falls short of exploring its significance aside from the occasional hints. Among his better cartoons: a gag about a man with a Starbucks in his rectum, one of several keen observations about the invasion of corporate branding into the city’s small-town vibe. Yet even as Callahan contends with angry letters, the broader connotations of his iconoclastic vision remains underdeveloped.

Instead, Van Sant relaxes into a loose, meandering approach that celebrates Callahan’s resilience without bringing it into sharper focus. As with “Milk,” the filmmaker captured a community-oriented figure eager to push back against social barriers with a distinctive voice. The backdrop of Reagan-era conservatism giving way to a new generation keen on lashing out suggests that Callahan epitomizes a national mood; the movie just doesn’t have much to say about it.

Still, Phoenix’s rascally performance often steals the show, anyway. Van Sant’s clearly in love with Callahan’s humanity, and at its best, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” salutes his survival tactics with a smirk. The movie falls short of deep insights, but its most prominent qualities — scrappy, ephemeral, a little bit lewd — mirror the chief attributes of Callahan’s endearing work.

Grade: B-

“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” premiered in the Premieres section of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It opens May 11, 2018.

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’ Review: Joaquin Phoenix Shines in Disjointed Drama

The last time a Gus Van Sant movie premiered at a major film festival, the film was “The Sea of Trees” and the festival was Cannes, where the movie was booed unmercifully at its first screening.

So it’s with a degree of relief that we can report that Van Sant’s new film, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” was met with nothing but applause when it premiered on Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival.

And to be sure, “Don’t Worry” is a far better movie than the inert “Sea of Trees.” Originally in the works not long after Van Sant made “Good Will Hunting” in 1997, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan, the Portland cartoonist who began his career after an auto accident rendered him a quadriplegic at the age of 21.

Also Read: Maggie Gyllenhaal Teeters at Edge of Art and Madness as ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’

The accident that injured Callahan came after a full day of heavy drinking, and Van Sant structures the film like the 12-step program Callahan went through to combat his alcoholism. But it’s hardly as linear as that sounds; the director uses a fragmentary style that jumps around in time and keeps an audience off balance.

The first half of the film is essentially a string of disjointed degradations, many of which Callahan brings upon himself. Then he hits rock bottom and has a hallucination that his mother (who put him up for adoption when he was born) appears to him and tells him to stop drinking. So he does.

Obviously it’s not that simple, though his progress through a 12-step program presided over by a filthy-rich, disconcertingly beatific guru type (Jonah Hill) is marred not by any relapses, but only by his slightly bad attitude.

At the same time, Callahan decides he needs to become a cartoonist even though his control over his hands is limited, and immediately attracts attention with a crude style that fits his transgressive sense of humor. We never see him become as famous and successful as the real Callahan did, but Van Sant is after an impressionistic portrait, not a timeline.

Also Read: ‘Juliet, Naked’ Review: Nick Hornby Adaptation Is a Rock ‘n’ Roll Charmer

The post-hallucination section of the film is slightly less disjointed than the opening stretch, as Van Sant’s quirk of choice becomes letting the 12-step sessions run on and on and on. (The movie clocks in at less than two hours, but it feels significantly longer.)

While the director originally discussed the role with Robin Williams, Van Sant ended up drawing flack for casting Phoenix, an able-bodied actor, in a disabled role. The director has said he would have been happy to cast a disabled actor if one was right for the part, though he’s added that Callahan, who died in 2010, wanted to be played by a movie star.

As it is, Phoenix throws him into the role fiercely and gives the transition from rage to peace an emotional punch. Jack Black gets to do his Jack Black thing early in the film, and to tug a few heartstrings later on, and the supporting cast includes everyone from German actor Udo Kier to indie-rock luminaries Kim Gordon and Carrie Brownstein.

The oddest role of all goes to Rooney Mara, who uncharacteristically has a part with no edge at all. She plays a Swedish nurse-turned-stewardess who becomes Callahan’s girlfriend and is so sweetly understanding at every moment that you kind of wonder if she’s another of his hallucinations.

Also Read: ‘The Catcher Was a Spy’: Paul Rudd’s WWII Drama Swings and Misses

But then, Van Sant clearly was out to sow a few seeds of confusion in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” (The title, by the way, comes from a Callahan cartoon that depicts a posse of horsemen in the desert coming across an empty wheelchair.)

You can consider this a partial rebound from “The Sea of Trees,” while still wishing that he could have come back all the way.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Sundance 2018: A Music Fan’s Guide to Concerts, Appearances in Park City

TheWrap Presents Live Interviews, Photos at the Acura Studio At Sundance 2018

Sundance: Will Fox Searchlight Still Be a Player in Shadow of Disney Acquisition?

The last time a Gus Van Sant movie premiered at a major film festival, the film was “The Sea of Trees” and the festival was Cannes, where the movie was booed unmercifully at its first screening.

So it’s with a degree of relief that we can report that Van Sant’s new film, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” was met with nothing but applause when it premiered on Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival.

And to be sure, “Don’t Worry” is a far better movie than the inert “Sea of Trees.” Originally in the works not long after Van Sant made “Good Will Hunting” in 1997, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan, the Portland cartoonist who began his career after an auto accident rendered him a quadriplegic at the age of 21.

The accident that injured Callahan came after a full day of heavy drinking, and Van Sant structures the film like the 12-step program Callahan went through to combat his alcoholism. But it’s hardly as linear as that sounds; the director uses a fragmentary style that jumps around in time and keeps an audience off balance.

The first half of the film is essentially a string of disjointed degradations, many of which Callahan brings upon himself. Then he hits rock bottom and has a hallucination that his mother (who put him up for adoption when he was born) appears to him and tells him to stop drinking. So he does.

Obviously it’s not that simple, though his progress through a 12-step program presided over by a filthy-rich, disconcertingly beatific guru type (Jonah Hill) is marred not by any relapses, but only by his slightly bad attitude.

At the same time, Callahan decides he needs to become a cartoonist even though his control over his hands is limited, and immediately attracts attention with a crude style that fits his transgressive sense of humor. We never see him become as famous and successful as the real Callahan did, but Van Sant is after an impressionistic portrait, not a timeline.

The post-hallucination section of the film is slightly less disjointed than the opening stretch, as Van Sant’s quirk of choice becomes letting the 12-step sessions run on and on and on. (The movie clocks in at less than two hours, but it feels significantly longer.)

While the director originally discussed the role with Robin Williams, Van Sant ended up drawing flack for casting Phoenix, an able-bodied actor, in a disabled role. The director has said he would have been happy to cast a disabled actor if one was right for the part, though he’s added that Callahan, who died in 2010, wanted to be played by a movie star.

As it is, Phoenix throws him into the role fiercely and gives the transition from rage to peace an emotional punch. Jack Black gets to do his Jack Black thing early in the film, and to tug a few heartstrings later on, and the supporting cast includes everyone from German actor Udo Kier to indie-rock luminaries Kim Gordon and Carrie Brownstein.

The oddest role of all goes to Rooney Mara, who uncharacteristically has a part with no edge at all. She plays a Swedish nurse-turned-stewardess who becomes Callahan’s girlfriend and is so sweetly understanding at every moment that you kind of wonder if she’s another of his hallucinations.

But then, Van Sant clearly was out to sow a few seeds of confusion in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” (The title, by the way, comes from a Callahan cartoon that depicts a posse of horsemen in the desert coming across an empty wheelchair.)

You can consider this a partial rebound from “The Sea of Trees,” while still wishing that he could have come back all the way.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Sundance 2018: A Music Fan's Guide to Concerts, Appearances in Park City

TheWrap Presents Live Interviews, Photos at the Acura Studio At Sundance 2018

Sundance: Will Fox Searchlight Still Be a Player in Shadow of Disney Acquisition?

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’: Why Gus Van Sant Cast Joaquin Phoenix in a Disabled Role — Watch

Van Sant addressed the controversy from the IndieWire Studio at Sundance.

Joaquin Phoenix’s casting in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” has proven controversial, given who he’s playing in Gus Van Sant’s film: John Callahan, a quadriplegic cartoonist, musician, and artist. Van Sant addressed the controversy from the IndieWire Studio at the Sundance Film Festival, saying that Callahan himself “wanted the most famous person in the world to play him” and wouldn’t have been bothered by an actor without his own disability taking on the role. Watch below.

“This often comes up with all kinds of lead roles — who are the people playing the lead roles, do they have anything in common with the role itself?” Van Sant said. “I definitely would have used a particular person that was quadriplegic if they were the right actor,” he added, just as composer Danny Elfman chimed in: “A significant part of the story is before the incident, so to do that would have meant completely changing the story, because that’s a major part of the story — before and after the accident.”

“It comes up with so many roles, especially gay roles,” Van Sant continued. “Having Sean Penn was one of the more obvious ones. A person with a particular C5-C6 quadriplegia that John had is very specific, so it would be very hard to do. There was a sort of issue of what John wanted and I think, honestly, if I’d suggested it to John, he would have said, ‘Fuck no.’ Because he wanted the most famous person in the world to play him, which was Robin Williams — he couldn’t wait.”

Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black co-star in the film, which Van Sant adapted from Callahan’s memoir of the same name. “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” premieres at Sundance today and will be released by Amazon on May 11.

Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’ Casting Slammed as Offensive by Ruderman Disability Foundation

Phoenix stars as paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan in Gus Van Sant’s latest movie.

Joaquin Phoenix’s latest role in Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” finds him stepping into the real-life shoes of paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan, but not everyone is happy the director cast an able-bodied actor to play a disabled character. The Ruderman Family Foundation, a national leader in disability inclusion, has criticized the movie for the casting decision, saying it is “offensive to the disability community” and “overlooks the opportunity to cast actors with disabilities to play characters with disabilities.”

“It was a mistake for director Gus Van Sant to cast Joaquin Phoenix in his upcoming biopic about disabled cartoonist John Callahan,” Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said in an official statement. “The time has come for the entertainment industry to audition and cast actors with disabilities to play leading roles portraying disability.”

“As we enter 2018, American society no longer finds it acceptable for white actors to play black, Asian or Hispanic characters,” he continued. “It is equally unacceptable and offensive for able-bodied actors to be cast inauthentically in the roles of characters with disabilities.”

“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is based on Callahan’s memoir of the same name. The story follows Callahan after a car accident laves him paralyzed at age 21. He goes on to use drawing as a form of therapy, creating taboo cartoon strips that lead to controversy in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black co-star.

In denouncing the Phoenix’s casting, the Ruderman Family Foundation makes note that approximately 20% of America’s population is disabled, “making people with disabilities the largest minority in the country.” The group says actors with disabilities represent less than 2% of the roles seen on screen.

The movie is set to debut at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival this weekend. Amazon Studios will release “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” in theaters May 11.

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot’ Teaser: Wheels Up On Gus Van Sant’s John Callahan Movie

Amazon today released the first look at Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, a biopic of sorts from Gus Van Sant that stars Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black. The streaming service has already set a May 11 release in select theaters.
Phoenix plays John Callahan, a Portland slacker and drunk who almost dies in a car accident at age 21, becoming a quadriplegic. After he reluctantly enters AA, and with encouragement from his girlfriend (Mara) and a…

Amazon today released the first look at Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot, a biopic of sorts from Gus Van Sant that stars Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black. The streaming service has already set a May 11 release in select theaters. Phoenix plays John Callahan, a Portland slacker and drunk who almost dies in a car accident at age 21, becoming a quadriplegic. After he reluctantly enters AA, and with encouragement from his girlfriend (Mara) and a…

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot’ First Trailer: Joaquin Phoenix and Gus Van Sant Reunite After 23 Years

Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black co-star in the true story of paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan.

Gus Van Sant and Joaquin Phoenix are back together for the first time in 23 years in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot.” The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by cartoonist John Callahan and co-stars Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black. Phoenix and the director last worked together in 1995 on “To Die For,” which provided the actor with one of his earliest breakout roles.

“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” follows Callahan after a car accident laves him paralyzed at age 21. He goes on to use drawing as a form of therapy, creating taboo cartoon strips that lead to controversy in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. In real life, Callahan’s work was featured in The New Yorker, Penthouse, and Playboy. The book was published back in 1989, and Robin Williams was circling the role during the very early stages of a Hollywood adaptation.

The movie will world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week before heading to the Berlin Film Festival next month. Amazon Studios is releasing “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” in theaters May 11. Watch the first trailer below.

Amazon Sets ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot’ For May Release

EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Studios will release Gus Van Sant’s biopic drama Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot on May 11.
Pic is based on the memoir by John Callahan. He became paralyzed after a car accident at age 21, and turned to drawing as a form of therapy. Joaquin Phoenix plays Callahan. It’s one of two Amazon movies the three-time Oscar nominee has next year in addition to the April crime noir You Were Never Really Here. It’s also Phoenix’s second next spring with Rooney…

EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Studios will release Gus Van Sant’s biopic drama Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot on May 11. Pic is based on the memoir by John Callahan. He became paralyzed after a car accident at age 21, and turned to drawing as a form of therapy. Joaquin Phoenix plays Callahan. It’s one of two Amazon movies the three-time Oscar nominee has next year in addition to the April crime noir You Were Never Really Here. It’s also Phoenix’s second next spring with Rooney…

Jack Black in Talks to Join Joaquin Phoenix in Gus Van Sant’s John Callahan Biopic

Jack Black is in negotiations to co-star with Joaquin Phoenix in Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” the biopic on quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan. Iconoclast and Anonymous Content are producing the film, which is based on Callahan’s autobiography of the same name. The title is taken from one of Callahan’s cartoons,… Read more »

Jack Black is in negotiations to co-star with Joaquin Phoenix in Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” the biopic on quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan. Iconoclast and Anonymous Content are producing the film, which is based on Callahan’s autobiography of the same name. The title is taken from one of Callahan’s cartoons,... Read more »