Film Review: Sex, drugs and twang

By Rachel Betts-Wilmott

The short days of January are the big leagues for cliches. It’s always during the first few lectures when profs pull out their dusty ol’ colloquialisms and use them anew. Meanwhile, every student is heard spouting the same old resolutions about better study and sleeping habits. But not even the most blow-hard history prof could beat The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico. The film is to the cliche Olympics what Kenyans are to marathons.

Director and writer Michael Mabbott’s faux rockumentary depicts the life of the greatest, drunkest, ugliest-but-Bob Dylanly-beautiful country singer the world has ever seen, the amalgam of every music stereotype and cliche rolled into one–rarely standing–individual. The movie tracks Jim Jablowski (Matt Murphy) from his childhood in northern Alberta, to his dubious death as Guy Terrifico in Vancouver, through the recollections of country music stars and aficionados like Kris Kristofferson, Ronnie Hawkins, Merle Haggard and Rob Bowman. The interviews with Terrifico’s friends and at times enemies, bandmates, manager, wife and entourage piece together the unbelievable story, giving form to the clips of footage, recorded for posterity by the singer’s friend, the midget.

The movie’s ridiculousness is simultaneously its greatest strength and its downfall. Terrifico is a sequence of hilarious situations, making it an extremely entertaining 85 minutes of film to watch. However, the absurdity and implausibility of this dream musician’s life story might be a harder pill to swallow for the less light-hearted audience member.

Mabbott is admirably consistent in his first full-length movie. With so much silliness The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico teeters on the edge of irrelevance, yet Mabbott dives further in with the quirkiest score since Disney’s Aladdin, giving the movie a theme of folly, rather than making it an incongruous farce. Mabbott set out the guidelines for Terrifico’s repertoire, which was then fleshed out by Murphy into songs like “Perogie Blues.” The resultant great songs of the collaboration between the director and the first-time actor but long time musician are so pleasing, as are the performances by Murphy, they give the movie its strongest pretense toward truth.

The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico is the embodiment of every music story you’ve ever heard. It combines the myths about Hank Williams, the attitude of Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash’s girls, the drugs of the ’60s and ’70s with horses kicking, midgets flying and family jamborees gone awry. The film manages to be quintessentially country. The features making it great to some are the same ones making it annoying to others.

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