The film was released in the United States and Canada by Columbia Pictures on December 21, 2007.
Dewey Cox begins his quest for stardom in Springberry, Alabama in 1946. While playing with his brother Nate, Dewey accidentally cuts his brother in half at the waist with a machete. This leads Dewey's father to frequently repeat the phrase "The wrong kid died" throughout the film. The trauma causes Dewey to lose his sense of smell "you've gone smell blind," states Dewey's mother. After his brother's death is announced by a physician making a house call, Dewey's mother sends him to the local store to buy some butter and a candle. There, he meets a blues guitarist, who lets Dewey play his guitar. Dewey is a natural.
In 1953, after a successful, yet oddly controversial, talent show performance, then 14-year-old Dewey decides to leave Springberry with his newly identified 12-year-old girlfriend, Edith. They soon marry and have a baby; Edith begins to criticize Dewey and insist that his dream of being a musician will never happen. While working at an all-African American nightclub, Dewey gets a break when he replaces singer Bobby Shad at the last minute, much to the delight of the Hasidic Jewish record executives attending the show.
Dewey then is brought to the studio where he is interrupted while recording a rockabilly rendition of "That's Amore". The recording executive berates Dewey as talentless. Backed into a corner, Dewey makes the first recording of "Walk Hard", the song inspired by a speech Dewey gave to Edith.
Within 35 minutes, the song becomes a hit, and Dewey begins to get caught up in the fame of rock and roll. When Dewey stumbles upon a room of groupies smoking with drummer Sam, Sam introduces Dewey to marijuana. Sam tells Dewey to leave because he "don't want no part of this shit" (a running gag throughout the film) but Dewey eventually tries it and continues to do so every time he finds Sam with a new drug. His attitude and drug problems cause him to become unfaithful to Edith. Dewey's father then returns to inform Dewey that Dewey's mother has died. Pa manages to make Dewey feel responsible for her death, contributing to an already high level of inner turmoil. Dewey is then introduced to cocaine, which leads to a change in his music to a louder, "Punk rock" type. With the addition of backup singer Darlene Madison, Dewey produces several more hit records. However, they become attracted to each other, and Dewey weds Darlene while still married to Edith, which leads to both women leaving him. He then snaps at his monkey companion, who is "only concerned with fruit and touching himself". Dewey is eventually busted after purchasing drugs from an undercover cop, serves time in jail, and spends time in rehab before Darlene returns.
They move to Berkeley, California in 1966 at the beginning of the '60s counterculture movement. Dewey writes protest songs for midgets. His singing style is then compared by a reporter to that of Bob Dylan, which Dewey angrily denies. In the next scene, a music video shows that Dewey's new song mimics Dylan's style, including opaque lyrics ("The mouse with the overbite explained/how the rabbits were ensnared/ and the skinny scanty sylph/ trashed the apothecary diplomat/ inside the three-eyed monkey/ within inches of his toaster-oven life.").
During a band visit to India, Dewey takes LSD with The Beatles, which causes Dewey to lose touch with reality yet again and have a Yellow Submarine-esque hallucination. Dewey becomes obsessed with every aspect of the recording process and is consumed with creating his masterpiece entitled Black Sheep (a homage to Brian Wilson's Smile). The band does not appreciate his insane style of music and his continuous abuse of the others in the group (Sam specifically berates Dewey ad nauseam for never paying for any drugs -- "Not once!"). As a result, the band breaks up; Darlene is also unable to deal with Dewey's insanity and drug problems and leaves him. Dewey goes through another stay in rehab, where he is visited by Nate's ghost. Nate ridicules Dewey's self-pity and tells him to start writing songs again.
Dewey is next seen jogging into the 1970s, and hosting a CBS variety television show. But his song-block prevents him from writing a masterpiece for his brother. (In the director's cut, Dewey remarries again, this time to Cheryl Tiegs.) Nate appears again and tells Dewey that he needs to tell Pa that he loves him. Although Dewey's father appreciates his courage, he challenges Dewey to a fight to the death with machetes. However, Pa accidentally cuts himself in half. Just before he dies, the senior Cox forgives Dewey and tells him to be a better father than he was. His death causes Dewey to have an emotional breakdown and he destroys almost everything in his home.
Dewey accepts that it is time to focus on spending time with his numerous children. Darlene returns to him in 1992, she is divorced and single. Dewey talks to Darlene about what he has done since they last met. After finally understanding what is most important to him, Dewey regains his sense of smell and they got remarried.
In 2007, Dreidel L'Chaim who is L'Chaim's son, pays Dewey a visit to his house. Dewey becomes popular with younger listeners through rapper Lil' Nutzzak's sampling of "Walk Hard". Dewey is upset about this at first, but pays it little mind when he is informed that he is to receive the lifetime achievement award. Dewey is reluctant to play a song at first, fearing the temptations he once succumbed to, but his wife, children and grandchildren put their full support behind him. Dewey reunites with his band and he is finally able to fulfill his dream of creating one great masterpiece that sums up his entire life with his final song, "Beautiful Ride." The ghost of his family listens to his song. A title card notes that Dewey died three minutes after the performance and thus the right kid finally dies.
After the credits roll, a short black-and-white clip titled "The actual Dewey Cox, 2002" is played.John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox, a parody of several 20th century musicians, including Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Brian Wilson.
Conner Rayburn as young Dewey Cox
Jenna Fischer as Darlene Madison Cox, a parody of June Carter
Angela Correa as Darlene's singing voice
Raymond J. Barry as Pa Cox is similar to Johnny Cash's father Ray Cash.
Margo Martindale as Ma Cox
Kristen Wiig as Edith, a parody of Vivian Liberto
Tim Meadows as Sam McPherson
Chris Parnell as Theo
Matt Besser as Dave
Chip Hormess as Nate Cox
Jonah Hill as older Nate (uncredited)
David "Honeyboy" Edwards as The Old Blues Singer
Paul Bates as Nightclub manager
David Krumholtz as Schwartzberg
Craig Robinson as Bobby Shad
Harold Ramis as L'Chaim
Simon Helberg as Dreidel L'Chaim
Philip Rosenthal as Mazeltov
Martin Starr as Schmendrick
John Michael Higgins as "Walk Hard" recording engineer
Ed Helms as Stage manager
Jane Lynch as Gail, the news reporter
Angela Little Mackenzie as Beth Anne
Skyler Gisondo as Dewford "Dewdrop/Dewey" Cox, Jr.
Lurie Poston as a Cox kid
Jack McBrayer as DJ
Nat Faxon as Awards show stage manager
Odette Yustman as Reefer girl
Frankie Muniz as Buddy Holly
John Ennis as The Big Bopper
Jack White as Elvis Presley
Adam Herschman as Jerry Garcia
The Temptations (Otis Williams, Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon, Bruce Williamson) as themselves
Eddie Vedder as himself
Jackson Browne as himself
Jewel as herself
Ghostface Killah as himself
Lyle Lovett as himself
Gerry Bednob as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Cheryl Tiegs (in the director's cut unrated version) as herself
Paul Rudd as John Lennon
Jack Black as Paul McCartney
Justin Long as George Harrison
Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr
Patrick Duffy (unrated version) as himself
Morgan Fairchild (unrated version) as herself
Cheryl Ladd (unrated version) as herself
Production and development
Jake Kasdan brought the idea to his friend and fellow director Judd Apatow. They then began writing the film together. The tongue-in-cheek references in this fake biopic were drawn from various sources. Apatow and Kasdan noted that they watched various types of biopics for inspiration, including those of Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe. Despite the humorous approach, the film was crafted in the serious tone of films earmarked for an Oscar, adding to the irony.
John C. Reilly, who actually sings and plays guitar, was chosen to play the title role. "We took the clichés of movie biopics and just had fun with them," Reilly said. The "deliberate miscasting" of celebrity cameos, such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles, was intended to enhance the comedy. The movie's poster is a reference to the "young lion" photos of Jim Morrison.
The film was praised by notable critics, including Roger Ebert (who gave the film 3 out of 4 stars), receiving 74% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, classifying it as "certified fresh".
The movie, however, was not commercially successful, taking $18 million at the US box office which was less than the film's budget.
John C. Reilly received a Golden Globe nomination for his role.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 8, 2008. In the opening weekend, 263,001 DVD units were sold, generating revenue of $5,110,109. As of May 2010, DVD sales have gathered revenue of $15,664,735.
Along with a backing band "the hardwalkers", Reilly made seven musical appearances as Dewey Cox in the weeks prior to the film's release date.December 5, 2007 - Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland, OH)
December 6, 2007 - The Cubby Bear (Chicago, IL)
December 7, 2007 - Stubb's BBQ (Austin, TX)
December 8, 2007 - Mercy Lounge (Nashville, TN)
December 10, 2007 - Great American Music Hall (San Francisco, CA)
December 11, 2007 - The Blacksheep (Colorado Springs, CO)
December 13, 2007 - Guitar Center on Sunset Blvd. (Los Angeles, CA)
December 19, 2007 - Knitting Factory (New York, NY)
December 19, 2007 - Performed in the character of Dewey Cox on Good Morning America.
Several fake commercials were aired including one with John Mayer, hinting Dewey might be his father.
Singer-songwriters Dan Bern and Mike Viola (of the Candy Butchers) wrote most of the film's songs, including "There's a Change a Happenin'", "Mulatto", "A Life Without You (Is No Life at All)", "Beautiful Ride" and "Hole in My Pants". Charlie Wadhams wrote the song "Let's Duet". Marshall Crenshaw wrote the title song, and Van Dyke Parks penned the Brian Wilson-esque 1960s-styled psychedelic jam "Black Sheep" (the recording session seems to be a specific parody of Wilson's Smile album sessions, on which Van Dyke Parks worked). Antonio Ortiz wrote "Take My Hand". A number of critics noted the unusually high quality of many of the individual songs on the soundtrack, how well they reflected the styles and times they were attempting to parody, and how well they stood on their own as quality compositions. The soundtrack was nominated for both a Grammy and Golden Globe Award and was nominated and won the Sierra Award for Best Song in a Motion Picture from the Las Vegas Film Critics Society. John C. Reilly sang on all the tracks and played guitar on most of them.