“Nothing worse than burying someone in a wheelchair”
A pure, human film about the consequences of poor decision-making and the still-voice of human compassion that surrounds the turmoil of self-destruction and the incidentals of life. As Michael Pattison (Roger Ebert) writes: “[t]his is a film . . . about coming to terms with the consequences of destructive lifestyle choices and addictions that don’t have easy resolutions.” Here, in Gus Van Sant’s biographical piece based on the memoir of the cartoonist, John Callahan, we find a meaningful film about the value of strong community in overcoming our devils without resorting to pandering and repeating mantras of positive thinking. In our world where the medical community strives to shove every human flaw into a box of addictions (for latest, see this and this), it is refreshing to see a film that demands that its characters take responsibility for their decisions and characters who refuse to feel sorry for one another. If you were moved by that Pity Party scene from Bridesmaids, you will find Van Sant’s newest deeply rewarding.
The film is based on the life of John Callahan, who became tethered to a wheelchair after his inebriated friend (Jack Black) drove his car going 90 mph into a light pole mistaken it for an exit. The driver walked away with barely a scratch and Callahan would never walk again. And yet it was Callahan who found redemption. Sensing a spiritual awakening, he resolved to put down the bottle and pick up the drawing pad — in the process, and with a little help from his friends, he overcome his addiction and became a comic icon. Jonah Hill and Joaquin Phoenix were brilliant, finding themselves at the cross-section of life and ending at the opposite sides of the mountain in the end. Certainly no comparison with Phoenix and Hoffman (The Master), but I agree with Eric Kohn (IndieWire) that the two had a dynamic that remained a “source of intrigue throughout.”
Whatever complaints the film deserves it has to be based on the flatness of the writing and the score. Jordan Hoffman (The Guardian) noted this well when he wrote that the many great moments “jump out amid a jumble of strangely flat scenes.” The same could be said regarding the absence of soul in many parts however impactful they were. I think largely this had to do with poor sound mixing and the fact that the film seemed to flounder for most of its movements. The score by Danny Elfman was minimalistic and could have been much improved to drive the relational elements of the group dynamic.
That said, the film was among the better films of the year, rich in the texture of life and the elasticity of the human soul to overcome the errors of youth. Perhaps no wonder that a film that rejects medicated humanity and the idols of individualism is largely rejected by Hollywood critics (holding at 75% on RT) that have otherwise embraced every peddled song-bird of progressive ideology that sings the right notes.
But that’s exactly why this blog exists.