Yesterday I left work a little early after feeling super ill all day. I was knocking back pints of ginger beer and peppermint tea in the hopes that it would prevent the waves of nausea that kept hitting me like a tsunami. So when I finally got home all I wanted to do was get into bed and watch the film I always watch when I’m sick. I know it’s a bit of cliche but how can anyone watch anything other than The Princess Bride when they’re stuck in bed? Well, as luck would have it, I couldn’t find my copy of the film so had to pick something else. Thankfully, the case of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? flashed out at me from the shelves and, as I haven’t seen it in ages, I thought it would be a nice treat. If only the fucking DVD had been where it was meant to be. So, to top off an already shitty day, I’m left blankly staring at a sea of films that I’m really not in the mood for. So I do what any person would do in 2017 when they can’t make up their mind: I googled it. Well, I googled “random film generator” and eventually came up with this. I’d never seen Walk Hard before but I used to live with a guy who spent ages trying to convince me it was the
greatest thing ever. I also adore everything about John C Reilly. So, after spending way too long on such an insignificant decision, I was finally wrapped up in the bed I’d been dreaming about since 9 am that morning.
For a time, it looked as though the early 2000s was a time of the music biopic. There was Ray, Walk the Line, La Vie en Rose, I’m Not There and god knows how many more all out within the first decade of the noughties. Despite being based on the real life of musicians, all of these films end up following the same sort of pattern. We see a troubled young wannabe struggle to get past their childhood, sliding out of obscurity into the big time and stopping off to sample women, booze and drugs before they finally become legends. It’s your average from zero to hero success story that oh so wonderfully follows the equation for the American dream. So it was only natural that Judd Apatow would see it as a genre was rife for parody. I mean I’m Not There already felt like a ridiculous spoof as it was so why not make a film that actually meant to be funny?
So in walks Dewey Cox played by John C. Reilly: a legendary rock star who has overcome a childhood trauma to become a decade spanning superstar. What is that trauma, you ask? Cutting his older bother, a gift pianist, in half with a machete. The death ways heavily on Dewey’s father, who blames his remaining son, and on Dewey himself, who believes he needs to produce enough success for the both of them. This is what drives him to pick up a guitar and aim for the big time. As he embarks on a massive tour, he finds himself drawn into the ever expanding world of drugs and groupies until he meets the woman of his dreams. Backing singer Darlene (Jenna Fischer) catches his eye immediately and, after singing a raunchy duet together, the chemistry becomes too much to ignore. With her help, Dewey is able to realise what is truly important to him.
There is a lot to enjoy about Walk Hard but it is a concept that never really reaches great heights. John C Reilly’s performance as Dewey is superb as he plays everything with a naive charm. Reilly’s musical talents were hardly a secret before this film but we now see how adept he is at imitation. Dewey goes through several changes of style during his career and Reilly becomes almost chameleon esque as he channels the likes of Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. It’s a highly impressive turn that, if I’m honest, this film doesn’t really deserve. Co-writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan made the perfect choice in casting the actor because it is his straight-faced and sincere performance that holds all of this together. Well, that and some amazing original songs. The soundtrack is truly remarkable in that it manages to be both hilarious and an incredibly well composed bunch of songs. Each one is a great quality and really represents the musical style of the time it was supposed to be mimicking. Again, it is something that this film didn’t really deserve.
It’s not that Walk Hard isn’t a good film or that it isn’t a humour spoof of the genre. It does everything it wants to quite well but it doesn’t exactly push itself. The jokes don’t exactly come thick and fast and, if I’m honest, a lot of them don’t quite land. This film would have worked better if it wasn’t too obviously trying to sell itself as a parody. The jokes that are desperate and downright silly get old really quickly. There’s a fantastic moment later in the film when Dewey ends up dropping acid with the Beatles in India. The Fab Four are played by Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman. Now these are obviously not the four actors you’d get to play the Beatles in any ordinary circumstances but it is the stand out scene in the entire film. In fact, all of the slightly miscast celeb “cameos” are hilarious. These clever bits of movie making just make the incredibly silly and unnecessary moments seem worse than they are. The times Walk Hard when this flies are the times when John C Reilly is allowed to get on with the job of playing the character. If this had been played a tad straighter then it could have been a different thing all together.