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The Hard Part Begins

1974, Starring Donnelly Rhodes, Paul Bradley, Nancy Belle Fuller, Cliff Carroll, Hugh Curry, Marie Fleming, Doug McGrath. Directed by Paul Lynch.

Paul Lynch has made significant contributions to the genre of Canuxploitation, including horror entries like Prom Night and Humongous, as well as action flicks including Bullies and No Contest. Because his films are easily accessible and made with an acceptable level of craftsmanship, they can be found without too much trouble at the local video store. There are, however, some notable exceptions like The Hard Part Begins, one of Lynch's few films to receive a warm critical reception.

The release of Goin' Down the Road spearheaded a movement of films starring luckless blue-collar losers including The Rowdyman and Paperback Hero. Writers like Margaret Atwood quickly pointed to the archetypes that these films seemed to adhere to and imagined a Canadian film landscape of impotent males, harsh environments, despair and depression. A good idea, but in an interview with Piers Handling, Shebib repeatedly said that Atwood's interpretation was "bullshit" and has resisted almost all critical assessment of his film. Still, there is no denying that the themes in Goin' Down the Road struck a chord with Canadians, and had a direct influence on those films that immediately followed. This includes Lynch's debut, The Hard Part Begins.

Jim King is an aging country music singer struggling through the bar circuit in small towns across Ontario. The film begins as his tour takes Jim back to his roots his old hometown of West Eden. Jim's band, King and Country, features his girlfriend Jenny on guitar and vocals and his buddy Wayne on lap steel and harmonica (played by Paul Bradley, better known as Joey from Goin Down the Road). Filling in for their hospitalized drummer is Roxon, a young pothead who would prefer to be playing a rock n' roll band.

Already feeling like a dinosaur as rock music threatens to obliterate his beloved country crooning, King is also forced to battle with some of his personal demons. His drummer is near death, his ex-wife hates him because he can't support her, his suicidal son is in a juvenile detention centre, and at every turn he is confronted by Dawson (played by Doug McGrath, Goin Down the Road's Pete) who wants to beat him up for impregnating his sister. When Jenny starts giving him a hard time as well, Jim and Wayne blow off steam by sleeping with a couple of local waitresses.

Meanwhile, King and Country play regular gigs at a small local bar stocked with regulars. These are fun musical sequences, and give Jenny a chance to really showcase her skills. Then there is some good news King informs the rest of his band that he has a meeting with a record executive from Hurricane Records. But when he goes down for his appointment, the label tells him they only want to buy Jenny's contract. Female singers are hot, and the label is not interested in the rest of the band. Visibly upset, Jim refuses the offer, and decides not to tell Jenny about the meeting.

Later, when Jenny is directly contacted by Hurricane Records, she is furious King tried to sabotage her career and decides to leave the act. Roxon also takes off with a rock band, and while Wayne wonders how he is going to their nightly show by himself, Dawson finally catches up with Jim, administering a harsh parking lot beating. Still, when all is said and done, King packs up his equipment and travels to the next town, to do his next show in a sparsely populated watering-hole.

While the similarities to Goin' Down the Road are immediately apparent, there are some distinct differences between the two films as well. While Pete and Joey always tried to do the "right thing" , Jim King is a fairly irresponsible man. He frequently sleeps around, and does nothing but hurt others in chasing his non-existent dream. Pete and Joey's failure in Toronto does little to dampen their enthusiasm as they head to Vancouver at the end. In The Hard Part Begins, King seems fully aware that he has been defeated, but continues on because it's the only thing he knows how to do. This is also a far cry from the impish, forgivable irresponsibility seen in Gordon Pinset's The Rowdyman.

Probably the most enjoyable character in The Hard Part Begins is Wayne, which Bradley plays strictly for comic relief almost as a parody of his character from Goin' Down the Road. At one point he tells a stoned Roxon that he "smoked some of that acid myself" before Roxon tells him he looks like a "duffel bag with legs." Another hilarious scene occurs when Wayne tries to seduce one of the waitresses. She won't stop talking about bingo, and keeps pushing him off of her until she can finish her fish and chips.

Filmed in Brantford and Ayr, Ontario, The Hard Part Begins connects the Canadian blue collar loser films of the 1970s to the genre films which were already starting to emerge. Really, The Hard Part Begins is nothing but a hard-luck country music movie with just enough sex and violence to push the boundaries of the stoic Canadian drama. And it's definitely worth a viewing. Not surprisingly, Lynch followed The Hard Part Begins with Blood and Guts, a similarly themed (and similarly obscure) film about a washed-up alcoholic working the Canadian wrestling circuit.

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