Joaquin Phoenix gives another incredible performance in this excellent new film from Gus Van Sant. The actor is a true chameleon and always believable. Here, he plays the late John Callahan, a talented cartoonist who was also a quadriplegic and an alcoholic. Wallowing in his misery, it takes him time to try attending a group meeting led by Jonah Hill, who lives in a mansion and seems to have no ambition except to help others in need. Slowly, Phoenix begins to absorb the 12-step program’s lessons and requirements. Hill reminds him that his problems won’t magically disappear when he completes the program; he will have to deal with them for the rest of his life.

Van Sant never overplays his hand and offers a feeling of authenticity from start to finish, even filming in Callahan’s home town of Portland, Oregon. Phoenix’s commitment is matched by an almost unrecognizable Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Rooney Mara, and a fine supporting cast. But it’s Phoenix who commands the screen and breaks your heart. He can be morose, sardonically funny, or self-pitying; he makes us feel it all vicariously.

Don’t Worry is a tough movie, all the more so because it’s true, no matter how many dramatic liberties may have been taken. The story is attributed to Callahan (who published his autobiography in 1989 and died in 2010), Jack Gibson, and William Andrew Eatman, but final story and screenplay credit goes to Van Sant. The filmmaker uses a visual motif based on Callahan’s clever pen-and-ink drawings that’s darkly whimsical and highly effective. Animation is a perfect way to get inside the cartoonist’s head and allow us to share his emotions.

If you’re not familiar with Callahan’s work, you’ll find many of his books still in print, including his autobiography. This film may inspire you to learn more about the artist.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024