Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (7/10)

2007 has come to a close, concluding what might be known in the future as the Year of the Apatow. With the two mega hits of Knocked Up and Superbad, apparently Mr. Apatow must not have thought they would do that well, because he managed to squeeze one in right before the doors to 2007 squeezed shut. I’m not sure why he felt the need to push this in straight among the Oscar contenders milling around theatres right now, because it’s nowhere near a masterpiece, but it doesn’t really matter why. Walk Hard is a devilishly clever jab at movie biopics and the stars that inspire them.

Screaming fans crowd close around a brightly lit stage, as a manager runs around looking for the famous Dewey Cox, who was scheduled to play a concert. Finally he finds him, nestled in shadow and staring intensely at the floor as he leans against the wall, but he’s stopped by one of Cox’s band members who says solemnly, “Dewey Cox needs to think about his whole life before he plays.” Thus we embark on a years-long flashback in which see Cox’s rise to fame and fall to the temptations of stardom.

Little Dewey Cox lives on a farm with his little brother, who one day joyfully proclaims, “Let’s go out and play! Nothing horrible will happen today!” With one quick line the script has effectively pummelled the idea of childhood tragedies, and it’s not done eviscerating the idea of fame. In an accident involving a machete and someone being chopped in half, Dewey must live with the guilt of having killed his brother, so he resolves to be twice as great. At a high school performance (by which time we already seeing John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox, skewering the idea of older actors playing younger roles), Cox discovers his talent for music when his singing causes women to literally rip their clothes off their bodies. The movie continues logically from there.

The strongest strength of the film is debatable between John C. Reilly and the razor-sharp script. Reilly manages to turn Cox into an actual person whom we almost believe could have existed. Touches of Johnny Cash (his breakout song “Walk Hard”) and Ray (“You’ve gone smellblind!” his mother exclaims to him in a burst of tears) are evident in his character, and his sheer immersion in the role and willingness to gallop along with the script at a blazingly fast speed is very very well done. As I mentioned before, the script cuts so deep it’s almost questionable the depth to which it can cut. No stone of the musical fame world is left unturned, as everything from drugs, to sex, to promiscuity, to musical styles, to disabilities, to the Beatles, even, is lampooned with mercilessness. Many viewers will think (that Walk Hard is insulting the geniuses themselves (men like Johnny Cash and Ray Charles), and though the film does toe that line, and sometimes even steps over it, something that is so abundantly evident is that the filmmakers love what they’re parodying. Generally, you can’t really adequately parody anything that you don’t really love. The filmmakers have a deep understanding of what they’re parodying, and it’s evident in every frame, and when we laugh at the main character of Cox, we’re not laughing at Ray Charles’s disabilities, we’re laughing at the movie and with the movie, because just like we love Ray, we love Dewey.

The rest of the cast does a fairly good job. Tim Meadows as a band member does a brilliant deadpan job; Raymond J. Barry does little else than speak the same line over and over again, but he does it with such vigor he makes it new every time; and Kristin Wiig as Cox’s fertile wife is absolutely wonderful. Jenna Fischer, on the other hand…well, I’m starting to think she’ll only ever be famous on The Office. She plays Cox’s second wife, and after seeing her in this, Blades of Glory, and Slither, she seems to always play the same character and always always always goes for underplaying instead of overplaying. She either needs to grow or stick to what she knows.

The music of Walk Hard is delightfully original yet also has just a smidgeon of parodic derivativeness to it. Unfortunately, Walk Hard is not as good as Knocked Up or Superbad, which leads me to be afraid that Apatow may be losing some steam. If you’re looking to be offended, you probably will be. It’s no masterpiece, and it’s by no means a perfect parody. Many of the characters, because they’re trying their very best to parody so much, lose a lot of their dimensions because of it. There’s some completely pointless nudity that just felt like the filmmakers were nudging each other’s shoulders. But it’s an excellent example of the genre, and if you are one of those people who love movie biopics, watch it. It’ll do you some good.

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One Response to “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (7/10)”

  1. I really enjoyed the analysis of the film. I was agreeing right up to, “this wasn’t as good as “Knocked Up”, this is not a masterpiece.

    I’m 47 years young. This movie had me rolling one scene after another. My best buddy who is also 13 years older was also laughing, snot-running belly laughs throughout.

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