John C. Reilly delivers an Oscar-worthy performance in the cult classic musical biopic spoof that is Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
While 2007 may have been the year of Judd Apatow, Walk Hard was not well-received by audiences. It’s since gone onto become a cult classic. I mean, the fact that we’re talking about this film on its 15th anniversary tells you the respect that it commands today. You cannot make a musical biopic without thinking, well, how does this compare to Walk Hard. You really can’t. It starts with the casting–John C. Reilly looks so much like the real Dewey Cox that it would be a mistake to not cast the guy. As audiences, we’re so lucky that he can sing, too. Approaching such a biopic helps when the the musician’s songs are already brilliant. We’re talking about singer-songwriter Dewey Cox for Pete’s sake! He is one of the greatest singer-songwriters to ever live and the filmmakers have his life as their starting-off point for the rest of the film.
But in all seriousness, the music in this film is awesome. I bought the soundtrack almost as soon as I saw the film–this and Enchanted hold up 15 years later as far as soundtracks go. To say that the music is absolutely brilliant is not an understatement. It does everything that the songwriters and filmmakers hoped it would. The film spoofs many genres, representing a wide variety of Dewey Cox’s roots and career as a musician. You have everything from Dewey Cox singing the blues to going through the Bob Dylan phase to working on a masterpiece similar to the Smile recording sessions. There’s also his staple song, “Walk Hard,” which restored the studio engineer’s faith in Judaism. Meanwhile, the film closes up with “A Beautiful Ride,” which was sung for the first time in public shortly before Dewey Cox died.
I don’t know if singer-songwriters Dan Bern and Mike Viola get enough work for their credit in this movie. Their contributions are absolutely superb. Nobody is half-assing it when it comes to the music. All of the songwriters–including Charlie Wadhams, Benji Hughes, Marshall Crenshaw, and Van Dyne Parks–are putting in the sort of work that would get Grammy recognition. Speaking of the Grammys, the Recording Academy got it right. The Academy, on the other hand, missed out on awarding the film with at least one nomination.
Let’s get serious about the film for a moment. Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan’s script draws on both Walk the Line and Ray for its primary inspiration, first and foremost. If this film feels like it’s an Oscar contender, that’s because the filmed it like such a film. Face it, almost every musical biopic is launched in late November or December as an Oscar tender.
There’s some great recurring bits involving Dewey’s drummer, Sam (Tim Meadows), and drugs. These bits are never not hysterical as Sam always tries to talk Dewey out of using drugs. The funniest one comes at the end when when Dewey turns down erectile dysfunction pills as he wants to resist the temptations…and after leaving, he walks by The Temptations rehearsing “My Girl.” Earlier, Dewey and his band travel to India where they meet The Beatles (Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long, and Jason Schwartzman as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr). After discussing things over with Darlene (Jenna Fischer), Dewey takes LSD and goes on a Yellow Submarine-esque trip. Screenwriters Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow are doing everything here to perfection.
No musical legend is off-limits. Prior to The Beatles, Dewey is on tour with The Big Bopper (John Ennis), Buddy Holly (Frankie Muniz), and Elvis Presley (Jack White). He’s put in the terrible situation of having to follow Elvis but that’s beside the point. This is a film that casts the last person that you’d think of when it comes to these legendary musicians.
I would be remiss if I did not discuss Edith Cox (Kristin Wiig) in the film. If she is based on Vivian Cash, well, this part of the film might be the only part that hasn’t aged well. Obviously, Apatow and Kasdan are taking some liberties in the creation of a fictional musician but Johnny Cash is one of the main people they are spoofing. This is mainly because there’s more about Vivian Cox that’s out there thanks to My Darling Vivian. It’s also the primary reason why I didn’t do a 15th anniversary review of Walk the Line, too. But I digress.
Fifteen years after its theatrical release, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story remains the be all-end all for the musical biopic genre. There’s a reason why Walk Hard almost always comes up when a musical biopic is released. All of these films usually include the same tropes and will usually end with a performance on screen just before the text comes on to say what happened after the performance.
DIRECTOR: Jake Kasdan
SCREENWRITERS: Judd Apatow & Jake Kasdan
CAST: John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Raymond J. Barry, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, Harold Ramis, Margo Martindale, Chris Parnell, Matt Besser
Columbia released Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story in theaters on December 21, 2007. Grade: 5/5
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