Directed by Jake Kasdan
“Oh my goodness, I’ve halved myself!”
Not a bad haul, with musical performances, deleted scenes, featurettes on the character and the music itself.
Why Did I Get This?
I was a fan of John C Reilly from his performance in Magnolia first, then worked back to Boogie Nights, and I love music and comedy so this seemed nailed-on. In fact, I think I probably went into this expecting something in the vein of Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy.
I remember watching it at the time and thinking it was fine, but that the music was the best thing about it. I recommended it on the music alone to one or two others who, if I recall correctly, were unimpressed.
Let’s see how it works a few years down the line then.
The Late Review
As always, the Late Review will deal with all aspects of the film, so if you want to avoid spoilers, scroll straight down to the next heading.
Walk Hard is a musical biopic of the fictional Dewey Cox – a fictional American country star – covering his life from childhood tragedy in the in the rural Midwest and spanning his career throughout the decades as the music industry and world changes around him.
Even if you’ve never seen this film before, you’ve probably seen this film before.
See that? That’s John C Reilly playing 14-year-old Dewey Cox at his very first public performance – at his high school, where an audience of straight-laced Midwest folk start dancing, puking, fornicating and fighting as soon as the ‘devil’s music’ – in reality a sweet and inane harmless pop ditty called Take My Hand – begins to play.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The film opens in the present day with a stagehand at an awards ceremony walking around backstage shouting “Guys, I need Cox” into his headset, and as obvious and silly a joke as that is, I’m ashamed to say I chuckled.
He eventually finds our hero brooding in the shadows having a long, hard think about his life and is told by Cox’s drummer (Tim Meadows)…
Sam: “You’re gonna have to give him a moment, son. Dewey Cox has to think about his entire life before he plays.”
From there, we flash back to a picturesque, sepia-tinted farm in the 1950s while incredible piano music plays. The music is being performed by a child – Dewey’s brother Nate, as Dewey watches on in awe before the two go out to play increasingly dangerous games.
Naturally, these games end up with Dewey accidentally cutting Nate in half with a machete during a good-natured fight in a barn.
Despite a doctor’s best efforts (including the fun line “this was a particularly bad case of somebody being cut in half”), Nate dies, and Dewey pledges to live enough for both of them. He quickly learns how to sing the blues, and then we cut to him as a teenager performing at his first show in front of his proud mother and bitter father (whose repeated line “the wrong kid died!”, is funny every single time).
After that, the film is pretty much on rails as a music biopic, hitting all the notes one might expect if you’ve seen – for example – Walk The Line or Ray.
Dewey meets Edith (Kristen Wiig – also playing a teenager), at his first gig, they marry and she complains that he’ll never amount to anything while dealing with a larger number of children each time we see her.
She moans at him to get a real job even as his success grows, and he fills their home with more babies and exotic pets like chimps and giraffes (presumably a nod to Johnny Cash’s ‘pet’ ostriches that almost killed him), as the cliches get set up like dominoes to be knocked down in an entertaining fashion.
You know that scene in musical biopics where the performer is getting nowhere but steps in for someone at the last minute and is noticed by important musical types? Yep, that happens, as Dewey fills in for a singer (Craig Robinson), at an all African-American club where the patrons “come in here to dance erotically”, and in a pair of wince-inducing gags, mimics Robinson’s patter in front of the musical suits – a bunch of Hasidic Jews (led by Harold Ramis!), before winning over the crowd who proceed to dance erotically.
You know that other scene from musical biopics where the performer has one last chance in their first recording session to change the minds of the music executives then perform their signature hit for the first time, leading to nods of approval from behind the soundproof glass? Guess what… that’s how the Johnny Cash-like Walk Hard gets recorded.
Naturally, the song is a huge hit, so we get a montage of Cox and his band wearing increasingly expensive outfits and carrying increasingly expensive instruments… you know the kind of thing, right?
There are repeated scenes of Dewey bursting into bathrooms and discovering drummer Sam enjoying drugs of increasing potency (marijuana, cocaine, PCP), with a gaggle of groupies, Sam insisting each time that Dewey doesn’t want them, then giving a list of reasons why they’re probably not as bad as he’d expect, leading Dewey to experiment and indulge in every single one.
Bathrooms are also smashed up on a regular basis, any time Dewey faces a problem or a challenge in his life, in a running gag that (I think), is a direct shot at Walk The Line, but which gets funnier as the bathroom smashings get bigger and bigger.
Life on the road is filled with temptation, so we’re treated to Dewey in his pants on the phone to Edith while surrounded by groupies and band members… and I mean that quite literally, as the nudity is equal opportunity, so fair play to Reilly for keeping a straight face and completing the scene while a colleague’s wang dangles just inches from his face.
The temptation gets worse though, as Dewey is joined on stage by Jenna Fischer’s Darlene Madison – a siren who performs the innuendo-filled Let’s Duet with him under a montage of ‘definitely not representative of sexual shenanigans’ activities like hammering, sawing, riding horses, that kind of thing. Sadly, most of that element is missing from this video, but you get a feel for the innuendo anyway…
Dewey’s career continues to soar as he changes with the times, with his look and sound changing to echo Bob Dylan’s protest period (protesting injustice against “women and midgets and stuff”), Roy Orbison’s Mariachi-infused heyday, Johnny Cash’s solemn, angry style (in particular Guilty As Charged), Brian Wilson’s addled perfectionism, with a brief stop in the Disco era before a 20 year break and rediscovery and newfound success through samples by the rap genre.
Along the way, he shares a bill with Buddy Holly (Frankie Muniz!), and Elvis Presley (a very funny Jack White), and travels to India to do LSD with The Beatles (Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman), in a scene featuring terrible accents and a terrific breaking of the fourth wall which, if I’m honest, was pretty much the only scene I remembered going into this rewatch but funnier than I remember it being.
Oh, and of course the story ends where it began, with Dewey about to receive a lifetime achievement award, going on stage to perform Beautiful Ride, a song he wrote in his 20 year break – where he reconnected with each of his 36 children and regained the sense of smell he lost through his childhood tragedy.
It’s the performance of a lifetime, and the closing captions inform us he died three minutes after the song ended.
Man, this was a fun film.
Thoughts On The Film
This was a really accurate, silly and merciless send up of the musical biography genre, but while the film never takes itself too seriously, it’s deadly serious about one thing – the music.
Yes, the lyrics are filled with sexual puns and gags, but they’re smart, funny and silly while being sung to some really solid tunes and musical performances. I would unironically listen to and enjoy this soundtrack, and found myself singing Walk Hard for days after watching it.
Brilliantly, it’s Reilly’s real voice – he can really sing, even nailing some of the Roy Orbison vibrato that, let’s face it, not many of us could.
Thankfully, while it might seem like an adlib-heavy film at first glance, there’s not that much evidence of the cast being shot in single and offering line after line until they find something that makes them laugh – it seems much more script-based than, say, Anchorman or Talladega Nights.
There are an absolute tonne of cameos too, and they don’t all feel crowbarred in, with Jane Lynch a particular standout as an unlucky local TV reporter whose interview quickly spirals out of control.
Frankly, this was much better than I remember it being. It’s fun, silly and just vicious enough to avoid being sickly.
Maybe it’d be best enjoyed with a drink, but however you watch it, I’d recommend giving it a go.