Walk Hard tells the tale of Dewey Cox, a musical prodigy whose musical career spanned the 1950s to the 1970s. Along the way Dewey takes lots of drugs, bangs lots of groupies and eventually learns that the path to happiness lies in spending time with his dozens of illegitimate children.
Walk Hard stars John C. Reilly, who spent a year recording 40-plus of the songs that his character supposedly wrote. He proves himself to be a more than capable singer and, much like the cast of The Naked Gun, he approaches the ludicrous situations with the same sincerity he uses in his more serious dramatic turns (The Aviator, Magnolia, Gangs of New York, We Need to Talk About Kevin).
Walk Hard provides examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: "I never realized until this moment how easy it is to accidentally cut someone in half with a machete..."
- Abusive Parents: Dewey’s father repeatedly reminds him "The wrong kid died!", and tries to murder him.
- Accidental Murder: Dewey accidentally killed his younger brother by cutting him in half with a machete as a kid.
- Accidental Suicide: Dewey tries to reconcile with his father who has not forgiven him for accidentally killing his younger brother by cutting him in half with a machete years ago. The two men end up dueling with machetes and Dewey's father cuts himself in half with his own machete. He does forgive Dewey before he dies though, as he now realizes how easy it is to cut someone in half with a machete.
- Affectionate Parody: To musical biopics generally, and Walk the Line and Ray more specifically.
- All Crimes Are Equal: How dare you, Edith? You drink all Dewey's milk, but you condemn him for a little bigamy?!
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Dewey's bandmates call him out on his many, many instances of Jerkass behavior such as sleeping with their wives, Sam's one complaint is that he never once paid for the drugsnote .
- As You Know: Any celebrity who appears will loudly announce who they are multiple times. This is done to self-consciously highlight the fact that they (intentionally) put absurdly little effort into imitating the celebrities they're supposed to be.George Harrison: It's so dark in this tent, y'know, it reminds me of when we, the Beatles, the four Beatles...
Paul McCartney: From Liverpool.
John Lennon: We are from Liverpool.
George Harrison: ...used to play those dark clubs in Hamburg. You remember that, Paul?
Paul McCartney: Of course I do, I booked 'em. [Beat] I'm the leader of the Beatles.
- Awkward Father-Son Bonding Activity: As Dewey's life crashes around him, one of his many sons asks him if he'd like to play catch. This simple act acts as a catalyst for him rebuilding his life.
- Bilingual Dialogue: Dewey and record producer L'Chaim have one where Dewey's speaking German and L'Chaim's speaking Yiddish (the two languages can be mutually comprehensible).
- Binge Montage: "God damn, this is a dark fucking period!"
- Biopic: Parodied. Very much.
- Brick Joke: Having been reminded three times during the band break up that “You never once paid for Drugs! Not once." Dewey shows up at Sam’s with a bag of drugs as an apology.
- Casting Gag: Jack Black and Jack White both in cameos. Don't try to convince yourself this is a coincidence.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Dewey's brother. Well he is played by Jonah Hill...
- Cover Version:
- One of the songs attempted during Dewey's first recording session? A country version of "That's Amore". It's so bad that it shakes the producer's faith in the Jewish people.
- Later, during Dewey's disastrous 70s variety show, he does a disco cover of David Bowie's "Starman." The music actually isn't half-bad, but he does it in a goofy spacesuit costume surrounded by go-go dancers. During the montage around this scene, he also covers Paper Lace's "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" and Alicia Bridges's "I Love the Nightlife".
- The scene at the lifetime achievement award show at the end has Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett, Jewel, and Ghostface Killah covering "Walk Hard" live on stage.
- The Comically Serious: The conceit of the movie is that it's photographed and directed like a normal music biopic, but has been "hijacked" by popular comedians.
- Creator Breakdown: In-universe; Dewey's lengthy and bizarre production of his masterpiece during the The '60s mirrors the similarly troubled making of The Beach Boys' Smile, which only got completed as a Brian Wilson solo project in 2004 (and wouldn't be finished in its original Beach Boys incarnation until four years after the film's release).Dewey: I want 50,000 didgeridoos!
- Many of Dewey's other songs are thinly-veiled references to other issues going on in his life (from his difficult relationship with his father to how he'd very much like to sleep with his backup singer).
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Done In-Universe. See Drugs Are Bad below.
- Double Entendre: Well, the title, for one.
Dewey: In my dreams you're blowin' me, some kisses / You and I could go down, in history / I'm gonna beat off, all my demons/Here I am a-sneaking up behind you/You can always come in my backdoor
- The entire "Let's Duet" sequence.
- The Christmas following the film's release saw a "lost" Dewey Cox Christmas single, "For Christmas (The People Want Cox)."
- The deluxe edition of the soundtrack was marketed as a boxed set called "Box of Cox."
- And then Dewey's song gets sampled by a rapper named Lil' Nutsac. Because Cox and Nutsac go great together.
- Played for laughs with Dewey's first big song as a high school student, "Take My Hand," which by all indications is a completely anodyne song about two people holding hands. Which manages to spark a riot at the high school, and the local priest angrily insists everyone knows what Dewey means by "holding hands." Dewey finds that really confusing, since it's just a song about holding hands.
- Drugs Are Bad / Drugs Are Good: Played with. Dewey frequently opens a door to find Sam behind it, indulging in some illicit narcotics in the company of some beautiful women. Sam always insists that Dewey wants no part of it, only to then insistently list all the benefits of doing that particular drug. Dewey inevitably ends up hooked on it.
- But he really doesn't want none of that stuff that gives you a boner.
- "It's marijuana, Dewey. You don't want no part of this shit." "It's cocaine, Dewey. You don't want no part of this shit." "We're doing pills— uppers and downers. It's the logical next step for you." "I want me some of that shit!"
- Sam seems to have no problem with drugs other than resenting Dewey for never paying for them, but sure enough, Dewey has to go to rehab.
- Duet Bonding: Dewey and Darlene, when they sing "Let's Duet", a song filled with double entendres.
- Easily Forgiven: Dewey lies to Darlene (and probably cheats on her with anything that moves), ignores all his children, is a Jerkass and The Prima Donna to his band, is extremely selfish in general, but they all take him back with open arms when he needs them.
- Erotic Eating: Dewey and Darlene do this with soft-serve ice cream cones in the "Let's Duet" montage.
- "Eureka!" Moment: Every song Dewey comes up with.
- Explosive Breeder: Edith is constantly pregnant, she and Dewey have approximately 10 children in less than seven years... Dewey himself has several dozen more over the years.
- Falling-in-Love Montage: Seen between Dewey and Darlene. As it happens, their montage includes such questionable activities as licking, sucking, slurping ice-cream cones with very ambiguous expressions...
- Not to mention the highly suggestive carpentry.
- Fan Disservice: John C. Reilly, naked.
- Fanservice Extra: Dewey has some really good-looking groupies.
- First Girl Wins: Subverted with Dewey eventually falling in love with his back up singer Darlene and divorcing his first wife, whom had previously won. Similar to how Johnny Cash ended up with June Carter after splitting with his first wife Vivian.
- Flashback Stares: Right before he begins an act, Dewey can be found staring at a wall in the dark, backstage. His best friend explains that he has to think back on his entire life before every show.
- Foreshadowing: Dewey noticed there's some tension among the Beatles.
- Half the Man He Used to Be: Dewey's brother came down with a really bad case of getting cut in half with a machete. As did his father.
- Heroic RRoD: Dewey dies of a heart attack a mere three minutes after finishing his last performance.
- Historical In-Joke: Mostly related to 20th century musicians and their respective biographies.
- Like Johnny Cash, Dewey communicates with his dead brother's spirit, who grows into a young man despite dying as a child.
- Dewey going "smell blind" is a reference to Ray Charles losing his sight from glaucoma, which is depicted in Ray as being brought on by the trauma of seeing his brother drown.
- Dewey's cover of Dean Martin's "That's Amoré" references Elvis Presley trying to sing like Dean Martin when he first showed up at Sun Records, only for Sam Phillips to force him and his band to jam on "That's All Right, Mama" instead.
- Speaking of which, Elvis constantly referring to himself as "the King" is deliberately nonsensical: Elvis didn't like the title at all, partially due to his religious convictions ("the only true King is Jesus Christ", he once remarked), and would always correct people using it by bringing up earlier artists he admired, like Fats Domino. In particular, he would've found the idea of God "hand-pluckin'" him to be the King offensive, not something to brag about.
- "Black Sheep," Dewey's drug- and psychosis-fueled attempt to be "artsy" and purge his demons, parodies Brian Wilson's breakdown when trying to record Smile.
- The Beatles sequence has everyone dropping titles from Beatles and solo Beatles songs; like with the stunt casting gag, it's meant to underscore how unsubtle these moments are when played straight.I wonder if your songs will still be shit when I'm sixty-four!
- Dewey sawing his couch in half in a fit of rage comes from John Denver taking a chainsaw to his and his wife's bed after she left him.
- Hitler Ate Sugar: After Dewey's performance of "Hold My Hand" causes a moral outcry in the town, the town preacher attempts to justify the song's "immoral" nature;"Y'know who also has hands? The Devil! And he uses 'em for holdin'!"
- Hollywood Heart Attack: The final scene of the film is a still shot of Dewey suffering a fatal heart attack.
- Hope Spot: Played for laughs, it finally looked like that Pa was going to forgive Dewey and reconcile. Until his wife died...
- How We Got HereSam: You're gonna have to give him a moment, son. Dewey Cox has to think about his entire life before he plays.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Near the end, Dewey finally quits drugs, saying that he'll no longer give into "the temptations." Cue the clean-cut R&B vocal group.
- Incredibly Long Note: Dewey and his band hit one in his country western cover of "That's Amore." As a joke, of course.
- Inelegant Blubbering: Played for laughs when the band ponders if Dewey "seems unhappy" right as he's weeping openly a few feet away from them.
- Insane Troll Logic: The reverend when proving "take my hand" means satanism.
- Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Parodied. He can't smell, but he still manages to learn how to play guitar. By ear.
- Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Elvis tells Dewey that two kinds of people know karate: The Chinese and the King.
- Intercourse with You: "Let's Duet", a song made entirely out of double entendres.
- It Will Never Catch On: At the height of his hard drug problem, Dewey starts shouting instead of singing and telling his band to play extremely fast and dissonantly. One of his band members is disgusted by the result — nobody's ever going to listen to this garbage, especially not with Dewey singing like some kind of "punk".
- Jaded Washout: While Dewey is able to maintain some success in the 60s, his career hits a wall in the 70s and remains dead until a rapper samples one of his songs in the 2000s.
- Jerkass: Dewey is selfish and narcissistic; among other things, he cheats on his wife, attempts to marry Darlene while married to Edith, never pays for drugs, refuses to take responsibility for raising his many children both legitimate and illegitimate, never pays for drugs, sleeps with his bandmates' wives and girlfriends, never pays for drugs, has a homosexual experience with a bandmate that leaves him confused and hurt, and he not once pays for drugs!
- Jerkass Has a Point: In a confrontation with his first wife about his always being on the road pursuing his movie career, his wife (yet again) brings up the fact that he's doomed to failure and is destroying his life and family. Dewey, who has already achieved a fairly respectable amount of success at this point, protests that "I'm actually doing quite well for a fifteen-year-old with a wife and a baby!"
- Lampshaded Double EntendreDarlene: You know I suffer the same temptations you do. Sometimes when I'm lyin' in bed, I ache for a man's touch... and by a man's touch, I mean a penis in my vagina.
- Lampshade Hanging: Much of the movie's humor is based around lampshading all sorts of old rock & roll tropes and cliches as much as possible.
- Mad Artist: Dewey plays this up in his breakdown.
- Magnum Opus: Dewey spends much of his musical career and, indeed, much of his life working on his magnum opus "Beautiful Ride," a song that encompasses an entire lifetime of ups and downs and which is so grand in scope that at various points in its creation it requires a veritable army of singers, musicians, and barnyard animals to perform it. Indeed, it is such a crowning achievement in Cox's life that, after its first and only live performance, he drops dead, his life's work complete.
- Male Frontal Nudity:
Note: I must mention one peculiar element in the film. As Reilly is having a telephone conversation, a male penis is framed in the upper right corner of the screen. No explanation about why, or who it belongs to or what happens to it. Just a penis. I think this just about establishes a standard for gratuitous nudity. Speculate as I will, I cannot imagine why it's in the film. Did the cinematographer look through his viewfinder and say, "Jake, the upper right corner could use a penis"?
- From the Roger Ebert review:
- The New Rock & Roll: The movie parodies the panic over rock and roll in the 1950s; at his high school talent show, Dewey and his band perform a sweet, gentle pop ballad called "Take My Hand" about two people holding hands. It immediately turns all the teenage girls present into sex-crazed nymphos, the teenage boys into violent thugs, and causes the older generation to picket Dewey's house with Torches and Pitchforks screaming about how he's going straight to hell:Preacher: You think we don't know what you mean when you say 'Take My Hand'?Dewey: [Bewildered] Whaddaya mean? It's about holding hands.Preacher: You know who else had hands? The Devil! And he uses 'em for holdin'!
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Averted as the fake celebrities keep mentioning that exactly who they are, no matter how bad the impression is.
- Offing the Offspring: Dad's ultimate plan for Dewey. It backfired.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Parodied mercilessly by "The Beatles", particularly by Jack Black as Paul McCartney, who practically delivers each of his lines with a different accent.
- Overly Long Gag: Two are beautifully done back to back with Dewey destroying anything he can find in his house during a breakdown, then playing catch with more and more children as his redemption.
- Politically Correct History: The Jewish producers who sign Dewey are heard whispering to one another how a white performer singing a song called "You've Got To Love Your Negro Man" is racially insensitive. Obviously, this would not have been a concern in the 1950s, but then again, historical accuracy is not this movie's goal.
- Real-Person Epilogue: Parodied. The film ends with performance footage of the "real" Dewey Cox five years before his death — played by Reilly again, just with slightly more convincing and naturalistic aging effects and a realistically scratchier, more weathered voice.
- Redemption Equals Death: Dewey's father, who realizes how easy it apparently is to accidentally cut a person in half with a machete only after being cut in half with said machete.
- Running Gag: Everytime something goes wrong for Dewey, he rips one or more sinks off the walls.
- "Wrong kid died!"
- "Get outta here, Dewey! You don't want no part of this shit!"note
- "It's not what it looks like!"note
- Dewey's first wife takes every opportunity to point out how he's going to fail at everything he tries, telling him "You're never gonna make it!". Even when he's clearly succeeding at everything he tries.
- Finding ridiculously awkward ways to let the audience know how old they are at that time.
- Making darn sure everybody knows exactly what famous person Dewey is encountering at that moment, with Dewey calling all of them by their full names. Isn't that right, Elvis Presley?.
- Dewey and others meeting all stereotypical fashions and trends of the era the scene is set in.
- Horribly miscast Celebrities
- Sampling: In-Universe. Dewey's Career Resurrection comes when a contemporary rapper samples "Walk Hard" and it becomes a viral hit.
- Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Exaggerated. Yes, all three.
- Show Within a Show: Dewey's schlocky 70's TV show.
- Shout-Out: The ghosts of Dewey's parents, brother, and ex-manager all appearing at the end is similar to the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin watching Luke in Return of the Jedi.
- The bad trip resembles Yellow Submarine.
- Dewey's Dylan period, shot in black and white and featuring him performing under spotlights in a large auditorium and insulting a TIME Magazine reporter, is a shout-out not just to Dylan, but to the acclaimed Rockumentary film about '60s Dylan, Don't Look Back.
- The '60s (Parodied)
- Spirit Advisor: Dewey's brother.
- The Stinger: We catch a glimpse of "the real Dewey Cox."
- Stylistic Suck: (Played with) There are numerous spoof songs that evoke everything from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan to the Beach Boys, but they're all funny and well done.
- Take That!: Dewey constantly pulling sinks out of the wall serves as one to Walk the Line.
- The Beatles deliver one to their bandmate Ringo, as they remind him he should be glad they let him keep playing the drums. Paul and John make increasingly-mean shots at each other as well, and openly ignore George's legitimate attempts to write music so they can bicker. This a major source of Shown Their Work as Paul and John having trouble connecting with their differing music styles and George becoming a more active (and ignored) songwriter were all major reasons for the Beatles breaking up.
- The bit where John tells Ringo that he's lucky they still let him play the drums is a reference to a supposed John quote that Ringo wasn't the best drummer in the band (which he never actually said), when in reality John remained close with Ringo even after the band broke up and frequently hired him as his drummer.
- Tantrum Throwing: A standard event when Dewey experiences some life setback.
- Tempting Fate: Pretty much every single thing Nate says or does before they play machete fight.
- Throwing Off the Disability: Dewey regains his sense of smell when reuniting Darlene, smelling her hair, then sniffing horse manure rapturously.
- The Unfavorite: Dewey to his father.
- The Unintelligible: Jack White's Elvis starts off as mildly mush-mouthed before descending into outright Elvis-sounding gibberish when he and Dewey meet backstage at Dewey's first performance. And as soon as he walks away...Dewey: ...what the fuck was he talkin' about?
- Waxing Lyrical: The first scene of Dewey in the 1960s has him acknowledge societal change with a line (mostly) lifted from "For What It's Worth."Theres something happening here... what it is ain't exactly... obvious.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Spoofed to hell and back. Everything he does is designed to impress his father, but no matter what he does, he gets only one response:Dad: The wrong kid died!
- Even when the scene when he FINALLY starts to enjoy his son's music and dances with his wife, his wife dies tragically when she dances out the window, with the radio playing Dewey's music falling on her head. Naturally, Dad blames Dewey for it.
- He even sings that while there's nobody else around.
- Wet Blanket Wife: Parodied; practically every single thing Dewey's first wife says to him involves either nagging him about spending more time with his family (not without cause, granted) or themed around him being a hopeless failure whose dreams of stardom will come to nothing no matter how hard he tries to succeed. Which becomes increasingly absurd when he's recording number one hits and touring the country in front of adoring crowds and she's still lecturing him on how pursuing his dreams of making music is futile and doomed to failure.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: Dewey becomes a male version of this trope in the '70s.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Dewey's brother was ludicrously talented and ambitious. Dewey, not so much.
- Word Salad Lyrics:
- Parodied with "Royal Jelly", recorded during Dewey's "Dylan" phase; he himself admits he has no idea what he's singing.Mailboxes drip like lampposts in the twisted birth canal / Of the coliseum
Rim job fairy teapots mask the temper tantrum / O' say can you see 'em
- "Black Sheep" plays with this; though the lyrics themselves are bizarre, the song's heavy symbolism is very clearly Dewey trying to exorcise the guilt he feels over accidentally killing Nate, and how he, the inadequate, unwanted brother, is still alive.I just close my eyes, when I fantasize
Much to my surprise, I'm only half the size
That I used to be~
Bye, bye, white brother / This black sheep gotta roll
Bla-a-a-ack, sheep / bla-a-a-ack, sheep
The fields are in har-mo-ny, half is unsung
Now, that the blade, has been swung
- Parodied with "Royal Jelly", recorded during Dewey's "Dylan" phase; he himself admits he has no idea what he's singing.
- Younger Than They Look: Reilly playing 14 year old Dewey. And 20 year old Dewey. And 30 year old Dewey. And 40 year old Dewey.
- You Should Have Died Instead: "The wrong kid died!"