Sunday, June 27, 2010

Overachievers: Walk Hard

It's not often that I'm prompted to run straight to the computer after watching a movie. But with no post up yet today -- I never exceed one per day -- I have a clean slate to do that tonight.

The movie that prompted this was Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Not only did it prompt me to go straight to my computer, but it also prompted me to create a new recurring-as-needed series on my blog: Overachievers.

Overachievers -- and its inverse, Underachievers -- will be series that allow me to spotlight films based on how they compared to my expectations for them/what I had heard about them. If a movie is much better than I thought it would be, Overachievers makes a nice way to spread the word. However, if it's been unjustly hyped, Underachievers can save my readers from it. (To the extent that people allow themselves to be biased one way or another by what I write.)

And tonight's overachiever is Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

I guess I only really discussed this movie with one other person who saw it, but that discussion left such an overwhelmingly negative impression of it that I'd kept a wide berth from it since then. I did form negative impressions of it myself -- a trailer that looked too broad by half; too much infantile dick humor in the title. But without that conversation, I probably would have seen it two years ago. After all, I consider myself a patron of Judd Apatow's many-splendored buffet. If Apatow's name is on it, I'll see it sooner rather than later.

Apatow has minor misses -- but my conversation with this friend led me to expect a major whiff. So I passed up a couple decent chances to see it. Until just recently, when my wife decided that she wants to watch basically nothing but simple -- preferably funny -- cinematic fare until she gives birth in two months. I lap up dumb comedies with the best of them, and now I didn't need to feel guilty anymore. So Walk Hard was one of three movies that came home with me from the library on Friday. It had to be good for at least a laugh or two.

Was it ever.

I think it's fair to say that I was laughing from the very first minute of the movie, and did not stop for more than a minute the rest of the way.

Quite simply, this is one of the funniest parodies I've ever seen. It takes all the well-known cliches of rock n' roll biopics and drives them just 10% into the absurd. Okay, maybe 20%. But with a few obvious exceptions, almost everything that happens in Dewey Cox could happen to a real music icon. It's not the Airplane! school of parody, where everything is a sight gag and few of them are logical. It's not the _____ Movie school of parody, where everything is just a really obvious parody of a really popular person or movie, regardless of whether it actually relates to movie's theme. No, Dewey Cox is the blessed result of a director and star pulling back on the reins -- and being all the more uproarious for how seriously they're devoted to being just plain funny.

I am in such a dizzy post-Dewey state right now that I can't even give you a laundry list of specifics, though believe me, I want to. I will say that not only is John C. Reilly brilliant in the lead role -- playing himself from, hilariously, age 14 onward -- but he's supported by a terrific and frankly huge cast of funny people, most notably his two leading ladies (Kristen Wiig playing Wife #1, Jenna Fischer playing Wife #2, in following the Johnny Cash template). Special props to Tim Meadows as his lifelong friend and the guy who gets him into every new kind of increasingly serious drug. The scene where Meadows tells him "you don't want this shit!" regarding marijuana, then proceeds to explain all the ways it's great as if they're negatives ("It's not habit-forming!"), is absolutely brilliant.

What's even better is that the music is totally legit. There had to be 15 new songs written specifically for this movie -- sung by Reilly, I'm pretty sure -- and they all sound like they could have been played by a real musician of the era in question. Only the lyrics are slightly goofier, but even the goofiness is underplayed -- most songs are more absurd than the most obvious interpretation of their lyrics, because of things a 21st century post-ironic audience would recognize, but they wouldn't have recognized at the time.

One final proof of how unexpectedly pleased I am with Walk Hard: During the entire time I've been writing this post, the DVD title menu has been replaying the title theme on permanent repeat. I believe this is the 32nd iteration. Or is the 34th?

Anyway, way to overachieve, Dewey.

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