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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Canadian Film Review: The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico (2005)

* * * 1/2

Director: Michael Mabbott
Starring: Matt Murphy

Guy Terrifico is the best musician you’ve never heard of – or so this film would like you to believe. More myth than man, Guy Terrifico is a symbol of the empty trappings of celebrity which this rockumentary (mock-rocumentary?) is eager to explore. Part musical, part comedy, and part tragedy, this is an incredibly engaging and enjoyable film.

Guy Terrifico (Matt Murphy) – who adopts this stage name after receiving the first of many head injuries – experiences a trajectory which differs fundamentally from the narrative lines followed by most rock stars. For one thing, he’s able to live the rock lifestyle before actually becoming a rock star, essentially pushing his musical aspirations and talents into the background before even having the opportunity to express his abilities to an audience. After winning the lottery, Guy buys a hotel and proceeds to turn it into party central, inviting various musical acts to play at his place and party with him, and falling prey to his newfound ability to consume all the drugs he wants without money being an issue. He’s become a star of sorts without effort but finds himself unfulfilled. Eventually he regains his focus and starts creating music again, going through several phases in his style including a brief stint as a gospel singer. The gospel phase, which lasts about a week according to his wife Mary Lou (Natalie Radford), is unsuccessful due in no small part to the fact that Guy’s idea of gospel is a song which includes the line, “I’ve got a 40 oz. of heaven in a bottle behind the bar.” He gains some success, much of which is undone by a drunken appearance on a variety show. His life falls apart, Mary Lou leaves him, he sinks deeper into the destructive elements of his lifestyle and then, miraculously, he gets clean, gets focused and is poised for a comeback. However, his new clean lifestyle doesn’t sit well with the drug dealer he was supporting with his habit, who assassinates him in the middle of a performance... or does he? Somewhere between the stage and the hospital, Guy’s body disappeared and no one knows, or is willing to admit, to knowing anything about it.

The film unfolds in a realist style, mixing not only interviews with actual musicians like Kris Kristofferson but also footage of the 1970s rock-country scene that Guy is meant to have been part of. Not having been alive at the particular time in which most of the film takes place, I can’t really attest to how well it captures the spirit, but I’ve been told by others that it effectively evokes the time and place it wants to depict. The music itself, which is peppered throughout the film, is great, especially the last song that Guy is ever to perform, which conveys his frustrations at the lifestyle he’s trying to leave behind and his desire to move on to better things.

The central performance by Matt Murphy is fantastic and really engaging. He nails the swagger inherent with the role as well as the almost child-like desire to please, to be liked – especially by fellow musicians. Even though he sometimes acts like a jackass, you really do root for Guy to get it together, make it big and be happy. The supporting performances are good, especially that of Lynn Griffin playing a former backup singer and girlfriend of Guy’s, in a showy and very funny role.

This is a really great movie, one that is both entertaining and thoughtful, worth watching as much for the music as for the story. Director Michael Mabbott does an excellent job bringing us into this world and making us care about the central character in this almost perfect film.

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