Movie Review: Walk Hard

By Matthew Huntley

January 16, 2008

Let's get physical, physical, I wanna get physical...

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Typical Hollywood biopic: Artist from small American town, usually Southern, finds he/she has special talent --> artist experiences tragedy that enhances his/her ability --> artist achieves fame and fortune --> artist descends into life of debauchery and substance abuse --> artist finds redemption through rehab, family or spiritual awakening --> artist is deemed a legend.

Hollywood studios love to make biopics that abide by this structure. They're safe, easily digestible and audiences consistently pay to see them. That doesn't necessarily make them bad movies. On the contrary, Ray and Walk the Line, which are heavily lampooned by Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, were good films, but I wouldn't call them challenging or risky. So Walk Hard simply wants to show how Hollywood recycles itself. Just as an overabundance of disaster movies gave way to Airplane!, an endless supply of music biopics has resulted in Walk Hard. Let's face it, Hollywood had this coming.

Of course, so many movie lovers are already aware of the general biopic plot, so Walk Hard is sort of a one-joke pony in the way it points out the clichés and conventions of the genre. Luckily, though, it's quite funny. This is a daring comedy that doesn't care how stupid it looks, and that's part of the fun.

John C. Reilly, the enthusiastic actor with a seemingly insurmountable range, plays Dewey Cox, a rock and roll star who "needs to think about his life story before every performance." In a very long flashback, we learn about the rise and fall of Dewey and how he became a legend, from his upbringing in a small Alabama town, where he was responsible for his older brother's untimely death (involving a machete no less), to his introducing music with sexual connotations at the school talent show.

The movie has a lot of fun ridiculing biopic clichés, especially the stock characters. There's the bastard father (Raymond J. Barry), who constantly exclaims, "The wrong kid died!"; the loving mother (Margo Martindale), who is always "just so proud"; the immature girlfriend (Kristen Wiig), whom Dewey marries and impregnates, oh, about twice a year; and the backup band who grows jealous of Dewey hogging all the limelight. And it just wouldn't be a biopic if the protagonist didn't have a physical affliction - this time it's not having the ability to smell.


All in all, I liked how the movie called these conventions out, even if they were obvious. Maybe now Hollywood will try to be more creative with its methods, like the idea of the artist coming up with a new song in a matter of seconds or an older actor playing a character who is much younger.

This is the latest comedy from the fresh mind of Judd Apatow, who wrote the screenplay with director Jake Kasdan. Apatow has recently become an unstoppable force in Hollywood. Like his The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Superbad (which Apatow produced), this one continues to push the naked and vulgar envelope to new ground. He's one step closer to making male frontal nudity commonplace. After "Virgin," he has either written, produced or directed a slew of commercial hits, incorporating a new breed of comedy that combines gross-out, vile humor with genuine characters.

Eventually, Dewey Cox and his band become a sensation, playing with Elvis (Jack White), The Beatles (a cast of Apatow regulars like Paul Rudd) and Buddy Holly (Frankie Muniz). A sexy backup singer named Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer) also joins the band, and she and Dewey have your not-so-typical love affair along the lines of Johnny Cash and June Carter. There's a very funny montage where the two try resisting their sexual urges, insisting they're "just friends."

If you know where biopics usually go, then you'll know where Walk Hard is going and will be able to call out its jokes before it reveals them. Nevertheless, it's incredibly confident in its execution. Yes, this is another point for Apatow's scorecard, but I'm starting to notice a pattern to his comedy, not least of which is using the same actors and the same kind of random dialogue in which the characters insist on letting us know how pop-culture savvy they are. This is fine, but it's starting to wear a little thin. I would love for Apatow to continue making movies, but I hope he branches out a little more from his usual sex comedy. He makes funny movies all right, but perhaps he should try ones that aren't so easily categorized because his name is attached. If he doesn't, there could very well be a comedy in the works that spoofs Apatow's own work.



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