Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story Review
When you talk about modern music, rock stars or musicians it's not too long before the conversation soon begins to revolve around the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. The music industry, rightly or wrongly has long been associated with such hedonistic pleasures. Let's face it; it's synonymous with the music business and not only do we know that it goes on, we all know that it's been going on for an awful long time.
However, in reality what is portrayed as the glamorous lifestyle of a rock star is probably never all that it seems. The sex soon turns into a tiresome string of failed relationships and marital breakdowns. The drugs lead to psychosis, depression and overdoses and the rock'n'roll eventually turns from being sublimely creative to becoming the instantly forgettable.
Okay, maybe it's not all that bad and maybe I'm simply trying to console myself that the life of a rock star can't be all that great ! Not everyone gets to live the life of such wanton abandon but you get the point, the rough always tends to go with the smooth.
Walk Hard - The Dewey Cox Story tries to tell the rags to riches story of an unlikely country bumpkin who became a mega US rock star and a legend in his own right. The story is completely fictitious, Dewey Cox never existed, the life he lives is false yet the whole thing on offer here retains a degree of parody about it that does indeed relate to the very real lives of the rich and famous.
This is not just the story of 'a' rockn'roll star but it could be the story of 'any' given rock star. As such it's not a biopic, simply because Dewey Cox was a non-existent character. The film however strives to make mockery of the more recent biopic styles of 'Ray' and 'Dreamgirls'. You would also be forgiven to relate some of the episodes in the film to the very real life careers of the Beatles, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis - you get the gist, the list goes on and on and on and you may as well throw a bit of Bob Dylan, David Bowie and anyone else you care to mention in there for good measure as well.
I must advise you though that for you to get the most out of this film it's best not to anticipate it as an out and out comedy. Although it maybe labelled as such, the humour on offer here very much borders on the satirical and it certainly won't be to everyone's liking. However, if you wish for me to draw a more immediate parallel to a musical biopic, then it would have to be most likened to 'Walk the Line' depicting the life of Johnny Cash.
Dewey Cox (John C Reilly) has lived a life of America's greatest rock star and as the film opens he is in the twilight of his career and is waiting backstage in preparation for a final concert. As he takes a moment to psych himself up before he goes up on stage he lives through his mind the life and the career that has brought him upto this point in his life. The film rolls forth and takes you on the incredible journey of the life of Dewey Cox.
Shaped by a humble country boy upbringing in 1940's Alabama, a young 6 year old Dewey Cox (Conner Rayburn) very much adorns his older brother Nate (Chip Hormess) who is an immensely gifted and talented child. Unfortunately one day the pair of them decide to fool around in their father's barn in a play fight using real machetes. Dewey accidently slices his brother in half.....well as strange as it seems accidents do happen! Dewey is distraught, his father is distraught, the whole family is distraught but as the family doctor so succinctly puts it "This was a particularly bad case of someone being cut in half."
Dewey is blamed for evermore by his father Pa Cox (Raymond J Barry) in that the “wrong kid died.” The shock and guilt of all these unfortunate events also causes poor Dewey to lose his sense of smell. Rather bemusing twist you may say? Anyway the disability doesn't put paid to his dreams and he soon discovers that he has a most natural talent for playing the guitar and singing the blues. By the age of 14 he has formed a band and plays at a local musical pageant with a song called “Take my hand”. The whole thing causes uproar and it's immediately proclaimed as the devil's music by local folk as well as by the town's preacher man. Nothing our poor Dewey can do seems to go right and it's not long before he's completely disowned by his father and forced to leave the town. Along with his newly found 12 year old girlfriend Edith, Dewey sets off to prove his father wrong in search of his fame and fortune.
You can imagine the parody of the rock stars and their lives that this film then alludes to. It's a fast forward case of lucky breaks, talent spotting and opportunity that seem to fall into the path of Dewey Cox like nobody's business. His success is assured after being spotted at a most unlikely blues venue by three Jewish recording moguls. They decide to take him onboard and give him a recording deal that launches his first instant super smash hit “Walk Hard”. The rest as they say is history.
It's a tale of unbridled success coupled with progressive drug experimentation, the changing influence of the decades upon his music and how he and his hangers-on get through it all. What begins as merely experimentation of seemingly harmless 'reefers' by his drummer Sam (Tim Meadows) leads through to the hypnotic and psychosis inducing effects of class-A drugs and his increasing reliance upon them.
Dewey soon hooks up with Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer) in what is a mirror of Johnny Cash and June Carter's relationship. They eventually perform a wonderful song together called 'Let's Duet' and it really is one of my favourite songs from the movie. Anyhow he continues to wrestle between his family life, his love life and his conscience. Well if it isn't that then the countless groupies and orgies certainly put paid to his marital life.
The seventies become a mockery of the camp TV shows that tried to capitalise on many a fading stars fame and highlight how detached Dewey becomes from his music and the talent that got him there. It all leads to a tale of self pity and self realisation of where he is headed whilst fast approaching the twilight years of his career.
Whilst the movie continues to move along at a brisk pace it relies a lot upon your familiarity of the music and events of each era, the musicians who were influential at the time and the effect that their music had on countless generations of people. Whilst it's not laugh out loud stuff, Walk Hard does enough for those to reminisce of the times that were. If you weren't there then you certainly get a gist of what went on. There is a genuinely funny encounter with the Beatles in India which highlights the psychedelic influence of LSD upon the music of the era.
However, whilst it's plainly obvious that the characters depicted are the Beatles the movie insists on underlining the references so that the point hits home. It is actually one of the funnier scenes of the movie but it was marred somewhat by this pedantic approach. It really wasn't necessary to do this. Satire is best left to quick witted lines that sink receptively into the minds of the viewers. It's a very secure and assured form of comic delivery. Unfortunately though I couldn't help but feel both Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan's insecurity in trying to make sure that the jokes got through. The film progressively begins to undermine its own humour in that sense.
Trying to map a musical career across a number of decades can become a bit obtuse but Walk Hard mainly taps into the 50's 60's and 70's. It allows the film so much breadth of material to have a go at. Walk Hard certainly covers it but what could have quite easily been a stand apart and distinctive comedy becomes a somewhat lack lustre satirical view upon those decades of decadent behaviour.
John C Reilly plays the part of Dewey Cox well and proves he is a very credible singer to boot but unfortunately he's no Will Ferrell in the comedy department. Instead what you'll get here is very plain faced humour that relies not so much on the delivery of humour but far more on your attachment and understanding of it. I remain slightly unconvinced that the satire was completely by design and it feels like the movie simply fell into that vein.
As I say put Will Ferrell in there and it would have felt completely different. That's not to say there aren't some truly funny moments or that the film doesn't gel. The production quality is top-notch, there is a healthy degree of improvisation in the script and there is a stellar cast on offer in cameo roles. You will be pleasantly surprised when you go star spotting in this movie. Nevertheless the movie delivers on a number of fronts in some shape or form but there remains a sense that this film has missed a beat somewhere along the line. It's a decent enough watch as a musical if a little underwhelming as a movie.
With at least 16 original songs accompanying the story these are clear highlights of the movie and help to hold it all together. The music may not be to everyone's tastes but it is very well made with toe-tapping rhythms that are infectiously catchy. You will likely find yourself humming infuriatingly to these for quite some time afterwards. In a nutshell though that just about sums it up for me. I will probably end up remembering this movie more for the music rather than overly for the film itself.