First Hit: A unhurried film revealing the power of how forgiveness of others and self, can make one’s life different.
Many of us know of people who have struggled and paid prices by their addiction to alcohol. Here we get a glimpse into the life of cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix). As an orphan he struggled early with his own identity and reconciling his life. He claimed he knew “three things about my mom; she was Irish, had red hair, and she was a school teacher. Oh, yeah, and she didn’t want me. I guess that makes four things.”
He was molested at age eight by a school teacher and began drinking by age twelve. He claims that the last day he walked, he woke up with a hangover.
The film spends a fair amount of time showing the audience how blatantly he liked his drinking. One scene that exemplifies his cluelessness to his drinking is when he’s walking along a beach, he spies a beautiful young woman surfer. He tries a pickup line from a song, offers her a drink from the bottle he’s got in his pocket, and her look of polite disgust, says it all.
The film follows his journey of drinking and when he meets Dexter (Jack Black), the two magnificent partier’s have a wild night of drinking. It finally ends with Dexter driving John’s car, having an accident, leaving John a quadriplegic, and Dexter walks away with a few scratches.
As you might imagine, he’s angry at his predicament and takes it out on a number of people who are attempting to help him. However, one person who comes to help him weekly was Annu (Rooney Mara). She’s assists people who have a physical handicap. The way she enters the scene, she’s angelic and that’s exactly how John sees her.
One of the people he needs for support and whom he also antagonistic towards, is Suzanne (Carrie Brownstein) who oversees monitoring social, services expenses to keep him in an apartment, with wheelchairs, and covering medical costs including Tim (Tony Greenhand) who takes care of John. Tim’s job is to wash John, do his grocery shopping and clean his house.
Eventually, John finds himself going to an AA meeting, but he doesn’t speak much. Eventually he gets a sponsor named Donnie (Jonah Hill). Donnie is rich, gay, and calls the people he sponsors “piglets.”
He begins to draw crudely renditioned cartoons using his two handicapped hands pressed together to hold the pen. They are very funny because they are extremely poignant and targeted. One that I easily recall from the film shows two men in sheets (as KKK people), talking to each other, and one says, “Don’t you love it when they’re still warm from the dryer?” Another caption is the title to this film, where a small band of cowboys are in the desert find an empty wheelchair and the lead cowboy says “(see movie title)”
The group he sponsors are wildly honest and engaging to watch while they work out their stuff in front of one another.
When Donnie tells John to work on AA's Step 9, which is about making amends, he begins to see the power of forgiveness.
Phoenix was powerful in his portrayal of Callahan. He definitely shared a depth of pain in never thinking his mother wanted him. Black was perfect as his alcoholic friend. The scene when John comes to make amends is with Dexter was extremely well done. Mara was fantastic as a woman who always looked passed John’s handicaps and appreciated him for him. Brownstein was excellent as the caring yet restricted by policy social worker. Greenhand did a great job as the caretaker. Hill was amazing as the AA sponsor and friend. John Callahan wrote a pointed and direct script. Gus Van Sant directed this thoughtful film.
Overall: This probably isn’t everyone’s kind of film, but as the ending began to reveal itself, I loved the theme of forgiveness.