Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes! I approached Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story anticipating another Anchorman or Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby — a sarcastic, self-consciously stupid piece of sketch comedy with a star’s bizarre quirks substituting for comedy. Realizing some five minutes into the film that it would have nothing in common with Anchorman is one of my favorite moviegoing moments of the year. Will Ferrell doesn’t have a Walk Hard in him, and may never.
What this is, believe it or not, is an all-stops-out parody in the great tradition of Airplane!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun. It is the response of a group of talented filmmakers to the witless, pathetic likes of Date Movie, Epic Movie, and some of the Scary Movie sequels. Even better, it takes aim at one of my least favorite genres: the musical biopic about a country boy with a traumatic childhood and serious daddy issues who manages to make it big despite blindness/drug addiction/serious physical impairment/all of the above. Nothing out there needed skewering as badly as these self-important chunks of Oscar bait.
Walk Hard takes the joyous, rapid-fire, five-gags-a-minute approach of the aforementioned classics, but let’s get one thing straight: it’s not as consistent. In particular, the movie sags when it pauses for an extended joke: an appearance by every one of the Beatles falls back on stoner humor, and the running gag involving weirdly surrealistic nudity confuses the funny with the merely unexpected (though it is certainly the latter). The film thrives on momentum, and struggles when it loses it.
When it on, though, watch out. To give away jokes is to spoil a movie like this, but the first act is film-of-the-year material, as Walk Hard viciously jabs at the predictable backstories of these middlebrow biographies, their silly framing devices, and best of all the absurdity of having the same actor play a character from age 16 until death. Later, there’s a Bob Dylan gag that, for my money, encapsulates the man better in two minutes than I’m Not There managed in two-and-a-half hours.
The best part is that where these parodies usually bear some affection toward the genres they mock, Walk Hard doesn’t seem to like its target films much — at the very least, it thinks they are very silly. Its jokes aren’t mere plays on the biopic’s conventions, but indictments: in mocking its clichés, it brutally exposes them. I actually think that Walk the Line and Ray, Walk Hard‘s biggest targets, are decent films, though I have little patience for folks who thought they were amazing, or the best films of the year, or whatsuch. But I surely won’t look at them the same way again.
The movie comes from the awesomeness factory that is Team Judd Apatow, though I think all the attention Apatow has been getting has unjustly subordinated guys like Greg Mottola and Jake Kasdan, the directors of Superbad and Walk Hard, respectively. Kasdan brings this baby home, and I’m glad the artform that Zucker-Abahams-Zucker brought us in the 1980’s survives. It’s gotten raunchier, meaner, maybe rougher, but it lives on.