Amid the Humor, Dewey Cox's Music is for Real

John Reilly Poses in a Patriotic Spandex Costume

hide captionSpandex, diapers and animals all play a prominent role in the film.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
John C. Reilly Poses Boldly by the Car

hide captionJohn C. Reilly refused to break character while performing the songs from the soundtrack in a real-life music tour across the U.S. Here, one of his typically ridiculous poses in the film.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Just because the new movie Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story features John C. Reilly running around in diaper-like underwear and kissing chimpanzees, one should not assume the film is all fun and games.

Tying together over-the-top lines and characters are numerous carefully crafted, meticulously researched original songs written by such figures as Marshall Crenshaw.

This week, Reilly's been on a seven-city tour performing songs from the film as his character, the fictitious musician Dewey Cox from the fictional town of Springberry, Ala. On Monday night, Reilly played to a packed house of media people and VIPs at Hollywood's Roxy Theatre.

Though their musician's story may be fictitious, producers wanted to make sure his music was believable. In creating a complete body of original work for Cox, producers scoured decades worth of country and pop charts to make sure every detail — down to the sound of a particular type of amp used in a particular year — was accurate, music producer Michael Andrews says.

The film begins when a young Dewey accidentally slices his brother in half with a machete. Overwhelmed with guilt and sadness, he turns to singing the blues. At 14, he records a chart-topping pop single. What follows is a lifetime filled with fame, fortune, adultery, drug addiction, rehab, more drugs and eventually a lifetime achievement award.

Sound like a familiar, even cliche, trajectory? That's what director Jake Kasdan says he was thinking as he watched musician movie after musician movie with the same story line.

"It started to seem like no matter whose extraordinary life you took, and no matter the differences in their actual biography, if you condensed their life into a 90- to 120-minute three-act structure of a Hollywood movie, you start to see these certain patterns recurring," Kasdan says. "The effect is that people, no matter how different their lives, started to have very similar kinds of lives when you watch the movies about them."

In creating a film about a fake musician, Kasdan says, he sought to poke fun at the musician bio-pic genre. He approached screenwriter Judd Apatow, who was taken with the concept. The hardest part, however, was the soundtrack.

"We had to create an entire 50-year-career's worth of music, which is kind of impossible," Apatow says.

Fortunately, they knew just the man for the job: Andrews. Andrews put out the word that he was looking for original songs for the film, and soon they were flooded with submissions.

"We got so many, like maybe 40, 50 'Walk Hards,' " he says, referring to the movie's theme song, "These are 'Walk Hards' from guys from Nashville."

In the end, they decided to use a version written by Marshall Crenshaw. It's no coincidence that it sounds like Johnny Cash; the concept is that Dewey Cox's entire career is built on songs that sound like other famous people.

Reilly says recording all of those tunes helped him get into character.

"Normally on a movie you get maybe a week rehearsal. ... On this one, we had essentially six months of rehearsal, because every time we made a decision about what the character would be singing, we were making a decision about what his frame of mind was at the time," Reilly says.

Maintaining the quality of the music while still making it funny was a major challenge for the crew, he said.

"We never wanted to lose the listenability of the songs, because that was the most important thing, but it had to be funny. ... We had to find that balance somehow," he says.

Often that meant keeping the original musical structure but tweaking the lines a little so that they made references to actions like blowing kisses.

"We recorded 40 original songs. That's more songs than most musicians do in their entire careers," Reilly says, adding that he wouldn't mind if his character won a real-life Grammy.

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