Indie Focus: Transitions in ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot,’ ‘Eighth Grade’ and ‘Custody’

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

The American Cinematheque will soon be running a series in tribute to the enigmatic German-born model, singer and actress known as Nico. The “Nico Nights” series will begin with two films credited to Andy Warhol that spotlight her time collaborating with the landmark musical group the Velvet Underground. Her screen work with director Federico Fellini in “La Dolce Vita” and filmmaker Philippe Garrel, including “The Inner Scar,” in which she stars, and “I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar,” about their off-screen relationship, also will be seen.

The series will conclude with a preview of the upcoming “Nico, 1988,” in which Danish actress Trine Dyrholm portrays Nico during the tumultuous last years of her life.


We’ll have more screenings and Q&As to announce soon, so for info and updates, go to

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’

Gus Van Sant can be a very difficult filmmaker to pin down, particularly in his recent work. His new “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” stars Joaquin Phoenix as real-life Portland, Ore.-based cartoonist John Callahan, who was left in a wheelchair following an alcohol-related accident. The movie is an unusual mix of character study, biopic and recovery story, with strong supporting performances by Jonah Hill, Jack Black and Rooney Mara, among others.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Van Sant pays tribute to the restorative power of faith, discipline and perseverance, but he also resists the temptation to follow these themes into an overly pat or complacent groove. Callahan’s journey plays out as an ongoing tug of war between past and present, guardian angels and internal demons, spiking even its upbeat, inspiring moments with the jaundiced wit and instinctive melancholy that were essential to its subject’s temperament.”

The Times’ Jeffrey Fleishman talked to Van Sant about how the new film sits alongside his previous works “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Last Days,” in their depictions of the struggles of addiction and recovery.

Reviewing the film at Vanity Fair, K. Austin Collins added, “Perhaps we should be thankful that ‘Don’t Worry’ adds up to more than merely boilerplate ‘road to recovery’ hagiography — even if that’s almost entirely thanks to its performances, which are a strange mix of earnest and wink-wink idiosyncratic. … I walked out of ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’ with less of a sense of who Callahan was than of how hard it must be to make a movie about someone like Callahan — or, for that matter, any remotely complex person. His life practically begged for a great feature-film treatment; by the end of this effort, it’s still begging.”

At the Village Voice, Kristen Yoonsoo Kim said, “If there’s one thing that Van Sant does very well here, it’s creating a humanizing anchor at the center of the story. … Still, ‘Don’t Worry’ often feels like the promising debut of an up-and-comer who got lucky with a big-name cast rather than a return-to-form film by someone as esteemed as Van Sant.”

‘Eighth Grade’

In the feature debut of writer-director Bo Burnham, who came to notoriety as a comedian and YouTube star, “Eighth Grade” captures both the eternal awkwardness of being a teenager and the nuanced specifics of what it’s like today. The film also marks a breakout performance by Elsie Fisher, who plays a girl named Kayla just trying to get through her last week of middle school.

For The Times, Justin Chang called the film “sharp, sensitive and enormously affecting” before adding, “One of the pleasures of Kayla’s story is that it invites us to tune out along with her. … But Burnham knows that Kayla can’t hide from the world forever, and he spends the rest of this intimate, emotionally expansive movie trying to coax her out.”

Amy Kaufman took a group of actual eighth-graders to see the film and spoke to them about how it does and does not reflect their own experiences as teenagers today for a story that will be publishing soon.

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “ ‘Eighth Grade’ is a simple story of an unremarkable girl, tenderly and movingly told. … Movies about teenagers are often filled with contrived excesses, but Mr. Burnham understands that some of the most pronounced extremes — the drama, the comedy, the horror — take place in that lonely room known as our heads.”


Actor-turned-writer/director Xavier Legrand makes his feature debut with “Custody,” which picked up a directing prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival. In the film, a divorcing couple (Denis Ménochet and Léa Drucker) fight in many ways over custody of their son (Thomas Gioria).

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “Director Legrand, who as a child actor starred in Louis Malle’s ‘Au Revoir les Enfants,’ proves a master here of serious, uncompromising drama. His film crackles with low-key but intense emotional involvement. … ‘Custody’ can be difficult, even wrenching to watch, but it always plays fair with the audience, and the experience, worth every minute expended, is impossible to forget.”

For the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “Mr. Legrand is skilled in the techniques of dread and suspense, and without sensationalizing or cheapening the story, he gives this closely observed drama the tension and urgency of a thriller. Or, to put it another way, he uses thriller tactics — a ruthlessly objective camera, editing rhythms that ratchet up the anxiety of quiet moments, disciplined performances — in the service of documentary ends.”

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus.