Joaquin Phoenix brings us the story of cartoonist John Callahan, a quadriplegic alcoholic with a challenging yet humorous take on life. Based on a true story, John opens the film by sharing his story on a stage:
I know three things about my real mother. She was Irish American. She had red hair. And, she was a schoolteacher. Oh yeah – and she didn’t want me. Four things.
So this is what happens when you tune into a movie you’re not sure you want to watch, and within the first ten minutes something surfaces that lands on your heart: You most certainly keep watching.
One of the most intense scenes is when John is trying to get to a bottle of vodka. We see the pain erupt in his face, the overwhelming desire and not being able to reach it. He’s physically being protected from what is killing him – but he still wants it so bad. Is he pleading for a way to be able to reach it or a way to let go of it? He knocks over some furniture, and his pet rat runs free. An aha moment.
I must take a minute to talk about how amazing Jonah Hill is as Donnie, John’s sponsor. Holy shit. Magnetic and steady even while enduring his own struggles. They gave him beautiful lines, and damn, he delivers.
There’s a lot about the struggle of being powerless – not just over alcohol. The need to be creative and fearing not being good enough. Art = expression, Craft = perfection. John starts drawing cartoons again, and rather than judging his work as not good enough or imperfect – he relishes in the process, the creation, the expression of his art. It’s a joy to witness.