Crazy, a film inspired by the life of guitar great Hank Garland, begins with a man in bathrobe and pajamas being dragged down the corridor of what appears to be a psychiatric hospital by two orderlies. Flashed on the screen is a quote from Garland, “The music business can be hazardous to your health.” There in a nutshell, so to speak, is the story of Hank Garland. At least, that’s the biopic version.
Rewind to Nashville, 1945—it’s the Grand Ol’ Opry and Hank Garland (Waylon Payne) is making his debut. Hank Williams advises him to play something fast, and he does, quickly winning the audience over. Fast forward to 1955, same stage, an older Hank. He picks up a girl who feeds this session musician’s ego by telling him he’s the best guitarist in Nashville. He denies this, asserting he’s the best guitarist in the world. We then see him playing with Patsy Cline and Ray Orbison, and brawling with record producers. Do we think this is the story of a troubled young man?
Crazy paints Garland as promiscuous, reckless, brawling, full of himself (and a lot of other things), and jealous, yet a remarkably talented egomaniac. He was a session musician who played with the likes of Chet Atkins, Conway Twitty, Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, the Everly Brothers, Duane Eddy, and many other Nashville notables. He brought a unique sound into the studio, and evolved into jazz and blues.
Garland can’t seem to get it though his head that he’s hired as a performer and won’t be getting anything out of the compositional contributions he makes during recording sessions. Eventually this comes round to bite him and Bobby Helm on the butt when “Jingle Bell Rock” makes millions and it all goes to the studio. Recording executive Ryan Douglas shows no sympathy and tells Garland there’s nothing he can do—go see the big shots on music row. This is the beginning of a beautifully contentious relationship.
Garland meets a girl named Evelyn (Ali Larter) in a Chicago club, falls in love, cheats on her, then marries her. When they dance at their wedding to “The Tennessee Waltz,” we know the relationship is doomed.
“I will never leave you. I will always come home to you,” Hank tells Ev, but we’re suspicious. When Ev finds his cache of photos of other women she doubts his sincerity, and the audience begins to suspect that Ev is not wrapped all that tight. However, there's not a hint of infidelity on Hank’s part once he and Evelyn are married.
Hank eventually moves from country western to jazz. No matter what genre he plays, Evelyn can’t stand for him to be on the road. Ev becomes furious when Hank brings a black bass player home to sleep on the couch because the man couldn’t get a hotel room. In the very next scene she’s picking up a guy in a bar, but who else is in the bar? The one man Hank told Evelyn never to talk to again, Ryan Douglas. Before you know it, Ev and Ryan are getting down to the real nitty gritty in a not-too-private location while Hank is playing in a jazz club.
Racism rears its ugly head again as Nashville music execs (the Dixie Mafia) crack down on Hank for bringing black musicians into town. Partying with Elvis, Hank is interrupted by a delivery; a messenger brings photos of Ev and Ryan in bed together. Hank has some kind of seizure, tracks Ryan down, punches him in the face, and threatens to kill him if he ever goes near Ev again.
Ev and Hank (sort of) separate, but she calls him, demanding that he pick up her and their child at her mother’s house. On the way, a car rams him from behind, repeatedly. His car goes off the road and flips over a few times down a hillside. We’re led to believe it’s the Dixie Mafia—Ryan and his friends—who forced him off the road. Hank is badly injured, goes to the hospital, where Ev visits, and they reconcile to his pledge, “I’ll never leave you. Ever.” Is Ev suffering from narcissistic personality disorder? Is Hank borderline? Mental illness may account for their relationship, because as it’s played out in Crazy, there’s not a whole lot of chemistry.
Months later…Hank’s playing guitar (poorly) in the living room and Ev is complaining. They go out to dinner and she complains. Let’s face it, she’s a harpy. He goes ballistic, but not too seriously—the bullet doesn’t even hit anyone. Viewers will have the feeling that Crazy is a superficial treatment of a complex story. Since the movie is merely inspired (doesn’t that mean even more fictional than “based on”?) by the true story, most of what happens on screen doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
Crazy returns to that opening scene in the hospital. While this is happening, Ev’s at home in a basic black dress, pearls, make up, styled hair—what’s the point? This shot of Ev, and its juxtaposition with scenes of Hank’s electroshock therapy, is one of the most striking images in Crazy. Without a line of dialogue we’re convinced—Ev’s a nut.
Two years later, at home in Florida, Hank is doing nothing but vegging out. He’s obviously depressed and disinterested in life. His brother tells him Ev was in a car accident, and the kid is fine. Ev is dead. Hank switches on the record player, and what’s the song? “Tennessee Waltz.” He flips through a montage of memories of him and Ev, happier times stuff and then it’s thirteen years later and he is introduced on the stage of the Opry on Legends Day.
Overall, Crazy is a sad movie about underdeveloped characters. It does have a fantastic sound track. It is also the recipient of seven festival awards, but in no way compares to biopics like The Buddy Holly Story or Walk the Line. Garland comes across more as a caricature than anything else, which is true of nearly every other character as well. One surprising omission is that Hank Garland had released a number of his own albums, and was more than just a sessions man.
It’s always disappointing when potentially interesting characters are given short shrift, and Crazy is no exception. Viewers will experience a vague dissatisfaction as the film closes.
Credits show a collection of old photos and a video clip of the real Hank Garland playing in the style he made famous. Fifteen deleted scenes comprise the extras on Crazy.