You’re a record producer without a hit or a singer without a voice. You’re looking for the next big thing or looking to become the next artist to change the world with his song.
Hey, we all are, joked the creative team behind “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” a farcical take on the recent spate of music biopics like “Ray,” “Beyond the Sea” and “Walk the Line.” You want to be a legend? Easy, they say. Just follow these simple steps:
“First, you need something tragic to happen in childhood, like, I don’t know, cutting your brother in half with a machete during a machete fight,” producer and co-writer Judd Apatow said. “You need to discover reefer, then cocaine, then LSD, then PCP — in that order and only in that order.”
“Get a lot of exotic animals as pets, like chimpanzees and giraffes and camels, and a lot of fast cars,” star John C. Reilly added.
“And a wife that does not appreciate you, [so you can] marry another woman who you cheat on,” Apatow summarized. “And then 30 kids [whose names you don't know].”
“All the while writing every hit song — every important piece of music — that’s ever been written in American history,” co-star Jenna Fischer chuckled.
These tips would be hilariously grotesque if they didn’t also seem bizarrely credible. “For whatever reason, those are the through lines in a lot of musicians’ lives,” Reilly explained.
Indeed, watch “Ray” or “Walk the Line,” and you’ll begin to notice a lot of similarities in the lives of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, and a lot of movie clichés that stretch back to such films as “Coal Miner’s Daughter” or even “Amadeus.”
To take Apatow’s word for it, the humor of “Walk Hard” doesn’t come as much from spoofing these clichés in the traditional sense — there are precious few non sequiturs and gags in the film — but from teasing them out to their absurd yet logical conclusions.
“Ray Charles or Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis Presley or Roy Orbison — these are the greats. You know, we’d be fools to want to poke fun at them,” Reilly insisted. “What we’re kind of making fun of [are] the conventions that a lot of these movies have used. It’s just what happens when you take someone’s entire life and cram it into 90 minutes. Every time someone walks through a door, it’s a momentous occasion … and life isn’t like that.”
For the actors, that meant playing the roles absolutely straight. Instead of aping dramatic performances, they’re actually giving dramatic performances.
“I stole all my moves from Reese Witherspoon in ‘Walk the Line,’ ” Fischer revealed. “And she won an Oscar ! Who better to go to?”
But if a spoof movie without many classic jokes (think “Airplane”) seems incongruous to you — wait’ll you get a load of the music, which manages to be funny, catchy and strangely good all at the same time.
“We had this weird idea, which was: What if the songs were really good?” Apatow smiled. “At first, we thought, ‘Well, I guess the songs need to be funny.’ But then we thought, ‘Maybe it’s more important that they’re good and that they propel the story. And then we’ll make them kind of weird and funny … but mainly good!’ ”
To that end, the producers hired artists like Mike Viola and Dan Bern to write the songs — over 30 in all — lending an air of authenticity to the project and ensuring that “Walk Hard” wasn’t just a fake movie about a real guy but, follow us here, a real movie about a fake guy. And it’s already paid off: The song “Walk Hard” (penned by Marshall Crenshaw, Jake Kasdan, Apatow and Reilly) has been nominated for a Best Original Song Golden Globe.
Of course, the film does feature Reilly “doing a scene with a penis, you know, like in an orgy-like setting,” the star added, matter-of-factly. “I don’t think you’re going to see that in ‘Ray.’ ”
The Dewey Cox world tour comes to a screen in your city on Friday.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”
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