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Kids, I can’t wait to tell you about a new organisation I’m starting on behalf of movie lovers everywhere. I have officially created the Character Actors’ Recognition Podium. It’s a fan club for those Temple-dwellers who truly appreciate fine thespian performances. Dating back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, the tried and true support of 2nd and 3rd bills has been a long-unheralded necessity, allowing the brighter lights of the stars to shine. Great names from the past like Sydney Greenstreet, Alan Hale, Edna May Oliver, Franklin Pangborn, Hattie McDaniel, Eugene Pallette, Dame Judith Anderson and Gabby Hayes to name a very few, through the more recent Thelma Ritter, John Carradine, Tony Randall, Ned Beatty, Peter Boyle, Walter Matthau, Mako, Jeffrey Jones, Oliver Platt, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi. Through the blessing of either having a particularly notable physical appearance or by just plain being the most awesomely talented actors on the set, these players (- and hundreds of their ilk) have given some of the most memorable performances in cinema, yet many people still don’t recognize them by name. Therefore, my new little society is thrilled to pieces when one of these actors who chug along, uniformly giving great performance after great performance has a standout vehicle all to hers or himself. And so ladies and gentleman, for your delectation, I give you John C. Reilly in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story. 

Walk Hard is a no-holds-barred spoof of recent musical biopics like “Ray” and “Walk the Line”. Dewey Cox, a poor country boy, is traumatised by a freak machete accident that cleaves his brother in half, left Dewey without a sense of smell and gained him the eternal enmity of his father, who can’t look at Dewey without reminding him that “The wrong kid died.” Visited by the spirit of his sainted bro, who tells him to be “Double-good for the both of us,” Dewey spontaneously leans to play the blues guitar and at an astoundingly mature 14 years old, single-handedly brings rock and roll (- and groupies) to his school talent show. Demonised and misunderstood, Dewey runs away from home, new family in tow (- “I think I’m doing pretty good for a 15 year-old with a wife and a baby”) and finds work in a black nightclub where people “dance erotically.” While covering for the club’s injured singer, Dewey is discovered by record company scouts. Within moments of pressing, Dewey’s self-penned anthem, Walk Hard, becomes a hit across the country, catapulting Dewey into stardom and finding him on tour with Buddy Holly and Elvis. Wide-eyed and naïve, Dewey falls prey to the temptations of the road with an escalating selection of drugs and many, many sex partners, until he meets his soul-mate in the angelic Darlene. Together they face the advance of years, changing musical styles, drug experiments, transcendental meditation and psychedelic animation with the Beatles, singing protest songs for the Midget Panther Party, recording sessions with Aboriginal tribesmen, didgeridoos and goats, and the purgatory of 70’s variety shows. Will the love of this good woman bear Dewey through the turmoil in his life? Will Dewey ever regain his sense of smell? 

Produced and co-written by Judd Apatow, Walk Hard’s comedy style owes more to 1980’s comedy-meisters David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, than to his own recent hits, The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. The rapid-fire sight gags and non-sequiturs of Walk Hard are more reminiscent of ZAZ’s Airplane, Top Secret!, or the Naked Gun films, and just as outrageous and off-the-wall. Apatow and co-writer and director Jake Kasdan aren’t afraid to go low for their laughs here and I appreciated that. Yet somehow, despite the presence of a hero of a most questionable I.Q. and moral standing (- “I’m locked in a custody battle, right now. Custody is being forced on me, which I don’t think is right”), gags that feature close-ups of male genitalia and even the very name of the film lending itself to prurient, childish giggles; the humour is surprisingly smart and fresh. Walk Hard takes its parody way out of the box and revels in its absurdity. Every music biopic cliché and sacred cow is joyfully slaughtered: Each scene with Dewey’s not-so-supportive first wife finds her with more and more babies hanging off her hips and though the Coxes can afford a menagerie including a giraffe and a monkey (- haven't you always wanted a monkey?), the first Mrs. Cox is ever-clad in a homespun sack with baby goo decorating her cheeks and her constant warning to Dewey that he’s “never gonna make it”. The montage of Dewey and Darlene’s overtly suggestive attempts at maintaining a platonic friendship; hopped up on his newly discovered pill-addiction Dewey invents punk-rock; and during his “Middle –Dewey” period, Dewey accuses Bob Dylan of ripping off his sound; Dewey’s tendency to take out his angst on whatever plumbing is available. Eddie Vedder earnestly introducing Dewey as “The Chameleon”, “The Changeling”, “The Shape-Shifter”, “The White Indian” and “The Tall Midget” as Dewey receives a “lifetime achievement award”. 

I can’t imagine what this film would have been without the brilliant performance of John C. Reilly. Is it wrong to say he becomes Dewey? Well, good or bad, there ya go, and he’s wonderful. His incredible handling of the rampant silliness of the character never becomes self-conscious or winking. Reilly throws his all into Dewey and makes him into a rock biopic version of Forest Gump going with the flow through all the eras and fads, costumes and hairstyles. For all Dewey’s transgressions - and they are endless – Reilly clearly adores this character and through his inhabitation of Dewey, we like him, too. I’m thrilled to see Reilly, who’s given so many quality performances over his career, get a great starring bid like this.

The other thing I adored about Walk Hard was the fabulous soundtrack. Featuring songs written by Marshall Crenshaw, the Candy Butchers’ Mike Viola, Dan Bern, Apatow and Reilly, amongst others. Every song in the film is a gem and I arrived back at the temple singing them over and over. As we saw in 2002’s Chicago, Reilly’s got musical chops and that is essential for fleshing in our fictional rock n’ roll superstar, lip-synching wouldn’t have done it. He puts across the songs, replete with double-entendres and era-appropriate lyrics so well you can almost believe they could’ve been hits. Particular favourites are the toe-tapping “Darling” and "(Mama) You Got To Love Your Negro Man", and the mariachi swagger of “Guilty as Charged” that plays over a montage of scenes of Dewey’s first drug bust. Very little could’ve prepared me for the sight of Reilly sporting a blown-out 70’s shag on the set of Dewey’s variety television show, dressed in a silver spacesuit crooning a disco version of David Bowie’s Starman. 

The rest of the cast is equally brilliant; particularly Kristen Wiig, absolutely hilarious as Dewey’s unsupportive, hyperfertile 12-year old bride. The guest cameos need to be mentioned because they are truly inspired; starting with Frankie Muniz as a diminutive Buddy Holly. In case you aren’t sure who Muniz is supposed to be, you’re reminded with every line in his scene. Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman and Justin Long are Beatles, who look nothing like their counterparts yet capture their public stereotypes perfectly. John Michael Higgins has too small a role as a record producer who voices in no uncertain terms his lack of faith in Dewey talents and is quickly shown the light. His Best of Show and A Mighty Wind counterpart Jane Lynch is rich as an incredibly ill-informed Rona Barrett-esque gossip reporter. Jack White from the The White Stripes gives his Elvis imitation more personality than I’ve ever seen from the musician. Saturday Night Live’s Chris Parnell and Upright Citizens Brigade’s Matt Besser play Dewey’s long-suffering bandmates. I want to personally award whoever it was who achieved the glorious return of Tim Meadows, casting him in a vehicle befitting his brilliance, as Dewey’s drummer/drug pusher. He doesn’t have as much to do here as I’d like, but what there is made me long for Meadows to have his own Apatow-sized vehicle (- it's been too many years since The Ladies Man, y’all). 

It’s been eons since I’ve wanted to go see any movie a second time, but I have seen Walk Hard twice and can’t wait to laugh at it again. I adored the silliness, I adored the music and most of all I adored Dewey and the brilliant performance of character actor extraordinaire, John C. Reilly.


~ Mighty Ganesha

December 6th, 2007 


PS: Darlings, Our Fair City was graced with a supernatural event. The one and only Dewey Cox was brought back from the ever-after to prowl the stages of New York City once again. I'm thrilled to feature a review of the otherworldly proceedings composed by shrine-maiden extraordinaire, the Fabulous Ms. Jane O'Donnell, who attended the sexy seance.

Click on Dewey's smilin' face to be transported to the action







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