When it comes to modern cinema, the musical biopic is one of the most reliable subgenres for studios to greenlight. Using an extensive catalog of popular music, these films can examine the full life of a musical artist whose music has inspired the whole world. It is also a chance to explore how hard it was for these musicians to be able to stay on top given the ghosts of their past and the temptations that present themselves once they become famous. Titles like What’s Love Got to Do with It, Coal Miners Daughter, Ray, Walk the Line, and more were not only hits at the box office, but got the attention from the Academy in multiple categories. But in 2007, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was released, satirizing the many tropes within those titles that could seem tedious and repetitive the more you look at it.
With the recent resurgence of films like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, Judy, Respect and Elvis, it feels like now is the perfect time for another lampooning of this tired, recycled storytelling. Enter Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, the latest musical biopic is set to the life of musical parody legend Weird Al Yankovic (played by the brilliant Daniel Radcliffe). Yankovic, who is a co-writer on the screenplay and makes a cameo appearance, has made a career of taking some of the most popular songs of all time, and paying hilarious homage to them. In this 108-minute spectacle, Yankovic and writer-director Eric Appel empty the comedy kitchen sink to create his biggest parody to date.
Beginning to in the 1980s, a young Alfred Matthew Yankovic lives in a small, quant town with his parents Nick and Mary (Toby Huss and Julianne Nicholson). Young Al is looking to make his big break in the world, to make songs that will make people laugh, changing the lyrics to “make them better” in his eyes. But Nick has outlawed this behavior, smashing not only Al’s dreams of becoming famous, but an accordion that his son holds dear. Al must keep his love for polka and parody music a secret from the world, till he grows up and leaves his home. His life changes when he is making a sandwich using his roommate’s bologna, and as the hit song “My Sharona” plays, Yankovic’s first hit sing “My Bologna” was born. The song then skyrockets the young musician and his roommates (who don’t even know they are musically inclined till they pick up instruments in Al’s first live performance of “I Love Rocky Road”) to the top talents in the music business, with ever song up for grabs for them to parody.
Amid this success, Al makes a call home, to which his mother confesses to him that his father still doesn’t care for the music he is making, wanting him to quit and work in the factory that he works in before his fame runs out. With this news, Al sets out to make original music, claiming that his song “Eat It” is his first original creation. But in an act of reverse fate, his song is parodied by Michael Jackson, and “Beat It” becomes an international hit. With this, Yankovic takes a spiral down the road of becoming multiple things; an egotistical mad man, abuser of alcohol, and manipulated by bad influences from his girlfriend Madonna (portrayed hilariously by Evan Rachel Wood). Throw in multiple disagreements with the record companies, gun sequences with henchmen who work for Pablo Escobar, an assignation attempt, and disagreements his band and his manager Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), Yankovic career hits rock bottom. In order to salvage what he has earned, he returns home mend the relationship with his family, and in doing so, finds a new purpose in his career.
But of course, these over-the-top moments depicted in the film never actually happened in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s life. Known for being an artist of relatively no controversy, the comedic signer uses this cinematic space to make the ultimate joke about the larger-than-life portraits of the musical giants that he has poked fun at for throughout his extensive career. From the tropes of poor parental relationships, suppression and liberation of one’s talent, problem with addiction, the rise-fall-reconciliation of one’s career, and their impact beyond their time on this earth, it is all played for laugh in the most fictionalize version of someone’s life we have ever seen. With his involvement in the film, it is proof too of the fact that when these artists have a say in the storytelling or casting decision of who should play them, they can have massive, fact altering opinions on how they want the definitive movie about them portrayed. In making this outlandish film, Yankovic gives license to the idea that most of the projects are works of fiction, and it is best to sit back, laugh and enjoy them as movies rather than as testaments of accurate information.
Even the casting of Daniel Radcliffe as “Weird” Al is off yet on point with the message of Weird considering they look nothing alike, being the complete opposite in terms of stature and only putting a wig and fake mustache on the actor to connect them. But much like the real Al Yankovic, Radcliffe completely owns this version of the singer, who is over the top, zany, self-serious, delivering the perfect comedic performance. Beyond fitting right in with Appel and Yankovic’s vision, Radcliffe embodies the entertaining appeal that’s made “Weird” Al so popular to the actor, the various celebrities that cameo in the film, and audiences around the world.
Weird will leave Yankovic’s fan and film audiences howling with laughter through the end, as the commitment to the comedic bit doesn’t let up one minute. With more musical biopics coming out in the future (even more coming out this year), it is going to be hard to look at them seriously after watching this blistering, gut-busting examination of why the formula for the musical biopic is so generic and primed for humorous ridicule.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story will be released exclusively on the Roku Channel November 4.