Inside a wheelchair-bound artist’s dizzying addiction spiral

Inside a wheelchair-bound artist’s dizzying addiction spiral

The title of Gus Van Sant’s new biopic is the caption from one in every of its topic’s skewed cartoons, which depicts a cowboy posse gazing down at an empty wheelchair.

Quadriplegic artist John Callahan ceaselessly mocked his personal incapacity, and jabbed gleefully at each different group, too, main predictably to cries of shock — which solely goaded him on.

However his life’s work is secondary to Van Sant’s concentrate on the alcoholism that led Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) to his paralyzing automobile accident, and subsequent redemption through Alcoholics Nameless. The result’s a movie that traffics within the type of melodrama the late Callahan would possibly properly have had a discipline day sending up.

Nonetheless, Phoenix hasn’t turned in a dangerous efficiency in ages — one in every of his first nice ones as an grownup was in Van Sant’s “To Die For” again in 1995 — and he disappears fully into the cartoonist’s off-kilter persona, rocketing down sidewalks at harmful speeds in his electrical wheelchair.

He’s matched by Jonah Hill, intense and a little ethereal as Callahan’s AA sponsor. Rooney Mara performs one more supportive-girlfriend position as Callahan’s nurse-turned-squeeze, and a few feminine rockers present up: Carrie Brownstein (“Portlandia”) is Callahan’s caseworker and Kim Gordon and Beth Ditto are fellow AA members.

As an addiction memoir, it really works properly sufficient; there are a handful of deeply felt moments, together with a long-delayed dialog between Callahan and the motive force (Jack Black) of the automobile that left him in a wheelchair. However in case you actually need to get a sense of the cartoonist and his appreciation for all times’s absurdity, you’re higher off studying Van Sant’s supply materials: Callahan’s autobiography of the identical title.

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