Photo: ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’
Country rock singer Dewey Cox lived quite a life. As a child, his brother died by getting cut in half with a machete, and then his mother died while listening to his music. Dewey Cox was no stranger to drug addiction and divorce, but through it all, he continued to make music. Dewey Cox had a riveting career and life, which is all fictional. Yes, you got that right. Dewey Cox is a fictional character and is not a real rock singer. 2007’s ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ is a parody film of the music biopic trend, poking fun at the tropes that are often associated with the genre. In parodying the genre, ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ not only deconstructs the music biopic genre but also creates a hilarious story in the process.
Taking Yourself Too Seriously
‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’, directed by Jake Kasdan and written by him and Judd Apatow, acts as a parody of films like ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘Ray’. The film is clearly a parody of ‘Walk the Line’, which is the Johnny Cash biopic that came out in 2005. Apatow and Kasdan have said that they watched multiple biopics as research for the film and noticed how Oscar-baity they all were. These films often try to score Oscar nominations with powerful performances and a self-serious tone. This is still seen today with Oscar-winning films like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and Oscar-baity films like ‘Stardust’ and ‘Respect’.
John C. Reilly plays the fictional Dewey Cox with a seriousness that is similar to those of Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. In the film, Dewey Cox has multiple scenes where he is breaking down, poking fun at the scenes in music biopics where the star has an emotional breakdown (the scenes that are usually shown at the Oscar ceremonies). The joke of a lot of these breakdowns is either brought on by absurd circumstances, like the complicated Rube Goldberg-styled way that Dewey’s mother (Margo Martindale), or immediately cut off by Cox realizing that this would make a good song.
One of the strengths of the film is that the characters are not in on the joke. In many recent comedy films, there is a sense of meta commentary where the characters are self-aware and point out the surrounding absurdism. Think of every modern joke that includes a character saying “well, that just happened”. In ‘Walk Hard’, on the other hand, the characters take everything around them seriously and there is no sense of self-awareness. In one hilarious scene that demonstrates this lack of self-awareness,
Dewey Cox performs at his school’s talent show. In the scene, fourteen-year-old Dewey Cox is still played by Reilly, poking fun at how older actors play high schoolers. This joke is heightened by the fact that Reilly is paired with actual high schoolers, awkward lankiness and all. None of the characters sees the joke though and play it off with a straight face. This scene also satirizes the idea of the “devil’s music”, poking fun at the idea of how rock-and-roll was seen back in the day. The film acts out this hysteria by having the teenage girls undress as if they are hypnotized as Cox plays and having the men fistfight, satirizing how people believed rock music would make girls more promiscuous and boys more violent. The absurdity of the scene, like many other scenes in the film, is played straight, adding to the humor of the joke. By taking each joke seriously, the film only heightens the humor by making the irony pop out even more.
‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ – Following the Beats of a Biopic
‘Walk Hard’ follows the predictable beats and story formula that we associate with the music biopic. One trope that we have become familiar with is the tragic backstory. Biopics, especially music biopics, usually show the tragic events that happened in the star’s life, especially during their childhood. In both ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘Ray’, the tragic backstory involved the death of a brother. In ‘Walk Hard’, this trope is turned on its head. Parodying ‘Walk the Line’ more specifically, Dewey’s brother, Nate, dies by getting cut in half but lives long enough to have a full conversation with Dewey, implanting in his mind that he has to be double great for the both of them. The scene then heightens the comedy by parodying ‘Ray’, making Dewey immediately lose his sense of smell to add insult to injury. The ridiculousness of Nate’s death and the immediate tragedy of Dewey becoming “nose blind” is the perfect tongue-in-cheek take on the tragic backstory.
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Another trope that ‘Walk Hard’ turns on its head is the trope of drug abuse. Drugs are a big part of the lifestyle of a rockstar due to the ideas of partying and club culture. They are practically inescapable and this aspect is shown in a lot of music biopics like ‘Rocketman’ and ‘The Doors’. ‘Walk Hard’ parodies this with the character of Sam (Tim Meadows) always convincing Dewey not to do drugs like him while also describing them in the most enticing way possible. Part of the joke is the repetition of this scenario, where there are multiple different scenes of Dewey catching Sam on drugs and Sam convincing Dewey that he “don’t want none of this shit”. The final punchline is that when they are old, Dewey catches Sam taking erectile dysfunction medication, which is the first time that Dewey says no to drugs. While it would be easy to make the joke at the expense of addicts, that would be punching down. Instead of punching down, the film instead makes fun of how these films romanticize drugs by making them seem romantic and enticing.
There are plenty of other tropes that ‘Walk Hard’ parodies, from having music montages coincide with the character becoming famous to the classic trope of proving yourself to the music producer using just one song. Apatow and Kasdan have said that they watched a lot of biopics in preparation for the film and it is very clear that they did. One can’t watch the film without noticing what film a joke is referencing. By parodying common tropes and making these references, ‘Walk Hard’ points out how formulaic these types of films can be. While parodying these tropes, ‘Walk Hard’ also becomes a music biopic in and of itself, despite not being based on a real person.
‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ is one of the best parody films ever made. The film is a humorous take on the biography film and John C. Reilly shines as the titular Dewey Cox. Reilly, along with the rest of the cast, fully commits to their characters and to the absurdity of the world around them. By taking everything so seriously around them, the comedy is only heightened since the only people in on the joke are the audience. The film’s take on common tropes and plot points that are associated with music biopics makes the film a tongue-in-cheek love letter to the genre. ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ is a must-watch for both comedy fans and music fans.
‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ is available to watch on Hulu
Director: Jake Kasdan Screenwriters: Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow
Cast: John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Tim Meadows, Kristen Wiig
By Brianna Benozich
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Brianna Benozich is a writer for The Hollywood Insider and a stand up comedian. With a background in screenwriting, she believes that every good story relies on character, story, and themes. Brianna believes that these components, especially with comedies, can start necessary conversations and even open the minds of the audience. She strives to bring attention to underrepresented and overshadowed films and television series which align with the core values of Hollywood Insider’s mission to provide meaningful and compelling stories.