Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)


Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Dir. Jake Kasdan
Premiered December 21, 2007

2007 was a big year for me. On March 27, I started keeping a journal after being caught in a tornado. On May 13, I created an online persona called “Monty Park” in a failed attempt to force my high school’s film club to help me produce a mockumentary of the same name– a fortuitous choice, as I became quite popular in my senior year when the WGA strike in the fall and winter made my YouTube videos a major source of entertainment– they’re all gone now. The same strike coincided with the sudden rise of television as a critically respectable artform on par with film; it wasn’t just a good year for movies, and that new climate inspired me to want to be a television writer. Soon after, I became an Eagle Scout. On December 18, I turned 18, registered for the draft, and registered to vote. Three days later, I belatedly celebrated my birthday by going alone to what is now the ArcLight Pasadena, seeing Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and leaving disappointed.

My biggest regret from 2007, aside from getting banned from Starbucks, waiting too long to ask Justine Tran to the winter formal, and other general acts of cowardice and self-absorption with regard to the opposite sex, is not seeing more movies in the theater. My all-time favorite movie came out that year and I didn’t see it. I only saw eight films, which is still a high number for me, and the last of which was this movie.

My memory of seeing it is quite clear. Most of the jokes from the trailer– the best of them– weren’t in the film; always frustrating occurrence, and one that had led me astray on a previous birthday. At first I thought it was too silly at first, and too sincere at the end. A decade on, however, in a better mood, with a much deeper knowledge of the history of popular music, and with a new and painful familiarity with the 2000s’ particular brand of awards bait, Walk Hard is fucking hilarious.

The story begins at a concert in the present-day, as Dewey (John C. Reilly) looks back on his entire life before coming onto the stage one last time. In 1946, ten-year-old Dewey accidentally cuts his musical virtuouso brother Nate in an old-fashioned machete fight, and despite his father’s bitter insistence that “the wrong kid died,” vows to live the live the life that Nate never could– even though the incident “tragically” robs him of his sense of smell. At fourteen (and already played by John C. Reilly), he’s run out of town when his doo-wop song “Take My Hand” is lambasted as the work of Satan. But he soon becomes a runaway success as his song “Walk Hard” becomes a #1 hit. Soon after, he gets to know almost every major figure in the history of popular music, experiments with every drug the screenwriter could think of, leaves his perpetually pregnant teen bride (Kristen Wiig) for sexpot country singer Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer), and suffers one career hurdle after another.

Walk Hard couldn’t have come out at any other time, parodying as it does the trend of middlebrow musician biopics that reached their apex in the 2000s with Ray and Walk the Line. In a year that saw its share of affectionate genre satires, Walk Hard is strikingly unrelenting in its skewering of such films’ attempts to conform a real person’s life into a conventional three-act structure, often by cloyingly linking events in the artist’s life to their work; the way screenwriters kinda grossly exploit the artist’s personal struggles for maximum pathos; the way filmmakers try to score progressive points by ham-fistedly portraying the recent past as harshly as possible; and how they try to link everything into popular historical narratives of the 20th century with questionable relevance. Walk Hard knows the musician biopic game so well that it managed to parody movies that didn’t exist yet, such as Love & Mercy and Get On Up.

But that’s not even the half of it; Walk Hard is endlessly quotable, though it would be pointless to include every great line in this review, as it would be to name every mismatched actor who drops in to play someone famous. Although directed by Jake Kasdan, Walk Hard is an Apatow production, and it’s the only one that justifies Mr. Apatow’s obsession with celebrity cameos. It runs out of steam a little bit after Dewey experiences a Brian Wilson-esque mental breakdown, but only because the first half of the film was outrageously funny while the second half is only reliably so.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
Real 1950s groupies definitely had pubes. The ones here did not. No, I’m not letting this go.

Additional Notes
John C. Reilly has an absolutely lovely singing voice. In fact, the film’s original songs meet the Neil Cicierga/Flight of the Conchords standard of funny songs that are also genuinely good.

Please watch the original theatrical cut and not the “unrated” edition, which kills the pace of many of the best jokes.

How Did It Do?
Walk Hard got a pretty-good 74% fresh Rating on RottenTomatoes. It was also a box-office bomb, grossing just $20.6 million worldwide against a $35 million budget. And while I’m surprised by quite how badly it did, I get it. Walk Hard failed for the same reason Grindhouse failed: they are movies for movie nerds, people who go to the theater every week but are always outnumbered by the yokels who go maybe five times a year. I have been both of these, so no judgment; Walk Hard isn’t the type of movie that needs to be seen on the big screen for full effect, and I think was Sony was willing to take that loss; it didn’t cost very much, producer Judd Apatow had done extremely well for them that year, and in Hollywood, even corporate executives are generally people who like movies. So it’s hard to feel too bad about its financial disappointment.

It’s also hard to feel bad because the movie keeps on giving. In the decade since Walk Hard’s release, musician biopics have largely failed to evolve beyond the formula that it parodies. This is also why, Straight Outta Compton nonwithstanding, they are much harder for critics and prestige industry groups to take seriously. Hell, Get on Up, a James Brown biopic from 2014, used the same framing device as Walk Hard without a second thought, and got away with it three years ago, but now an generation of critics who were growing up in 2007 have begun writing and they find it impossible not to laugh. Imagine a western made after Blazing Saddles where someone earnestly says “head them off at the pass!” Now imagine 80% of westerns made after Blazing Saddles doing that. That’s what musician biopics are doing now, and it is why Walk Hard remains evergreen.

Next Time: 2007 in Review


Blades of Glory (2007)


Blades of Glory
Dir. Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Premiered March 30, 2007

When I told Minnie I was doing this movie, she became very excited. She’s up for almost any Will Ferrell movie, but though I had never seen it, one gets the impression that this is one of the lesser entries in his filmography. Was it? Yes. But that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Prettyboy ace Jimmy McElroy (Jon Heder) and preening lothario Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) are professional figure skaters banned from mens’ singles after fighting each other over a tie. Years later, they discover that they can still compete as a couple. Their coach (Craig T. Nelson) optimistically tries to get them working together, while an incestuous brother-and-sister team (played perfectly by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) use their little sister/slave (Jenna Fischer) to tear the two back apart.

Some of the jokes in this film fall flat, but just as many made me laugh for a good while. As a parody of inspirational sports movies, it works great, and while it’s not entirely memorable, a fun time is guaranteed.

Additional Notes
Nick Swardson is barely in this movie, but it’s still unfortunate.

How Did It Do?
Will Ferrell was the only person in his generation of SNL performers to become a big star. Like Bill Murray before him, Ferrell was only funnyman in the 2000s with the clout and box office reliability to go outside his expected role or occasionally flounder without damaging his career. It helps in Hollywood that, like Murray, he’s really funny and a really nice guy.

At the time, Blades of Glory didn’t seem like one of those flounderings. It made $145.7 million, against a $61 million budget, and critics gave it a 69% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. But while a film’s legacy is hard to quantify, I kinda forgot that it existed before doing this review. It’s not quotable like Anchorman or Talladega Nights because the jokes are too context-specific or rely too much on visuals, and I’ve never heard anyone try. The humor is good– screenwriters John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky were partners on King of the Hill, one of the most underrated TV comedies of its era, Ferrell of course is great. Jon Heder was spending the whole late 2000s coasting off his starring role in Napoleon Dynamite, but “sheltered, androgynous perfectionist” is pretty much the perfect role for him and his overbite.

I place the blame for Blades of Glory’s forgettability squarely with directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck. This was their first feature, and if you look at their subsequent credits– the disastrous GEICO Cavemen show later that same year, The Switch, Flaked, Office Christmas Party– it’s clear that the movie succeeds in spite of them. Even Jenna Fischer trying to seduce Chazz by wearing a black lace corset, which was the background on my desktop for most of 2009, almost doesn’t work because of how plainly and non-dynamically it was shot, and that’s fairly representative of the whole movie. Between this and Knocked Up, lackluster directorial style has shown itself to be just as detrimental to a comedy’s staying power as the actual comedy.

Next Time: Disturbia