A refreshing and ridiculous twist on the much-tired biopic genre.
If we’re all afraid to say it, then I will. I’m sick of drama movie biopics about musicians. That’s not to say that Rocketman, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Elvis were in any way bad, but in the last few years, this particular genre has become a little oversaturated. This is why Weird: The Al Yankovic Story couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.
Given that the comedy movie is based on a ten-year-old parody trailer (which was full of very 2010 YouTube humour), I don’t think many of us expected it to be good. But I’ve never been more pleased to be wrong, because not only was Weird: The Al Yankovic Story consistently hilarious, but also incredibly clever in its execution.
This heavily-in-air-quotes “movie based on a true story” aggressively ticks off every biopic trope without stopping for air, with it’s on-the-nose piss-taking of predictable plot points like the tough upbringing, a tortured genius and a heart-wrenching descent into addiction which is all deliciously blended with the most outrageous, perfectly-delivered dialogue.
As a young Al timidly tells his parents about his dream to “change the words to popular songs,” the tragically unsupportive duo tries to inspire him to just “not be himself.” At the same time, his gruff, hard-nosed father works day-in-day-out at the soulless Factory™ where nobody explains what they actually make.
Throughout the film, what we see aren’t as much side characters as they are devastatingly accurate and well-played caricatures of the tropes we see in biopics. Toby Huss, for instance, clearly has the time of his life as Daddy Yankovic (who at one point destroys Young Al’s accordion in an absurdly harrowing scene); but it’s Evan Rachel Wood, who plays sinister seductress Madonna in the second and third act of the film that really shines, as she pulls off both a startling impression of the singer as well as the increasingly-chaotic movie villain role, complete with an eye patch.
Underpinning this movie is consistently hilarious, self-aware writing by Eric Appel (who also helps the film burst with colour through his directing) and Yankovic himself, who is more than happy to make himself the butt of the joke while continually raising the stakes and letting the movie descend into delightful chaos.
Radcliffe brilliantly embodies Yankovic with a deadpan earnestness that’s essential in helping the various gags land and deliver while also fully embracing the more active portions of the movie (which includes an intense polka battle). Complete with Al’s Hawaiian shirt and trusty accordion, the former Harry Potter movie star shines in this role because he plays it without an ounce of inhibition, revelling in the eccentricity of the character and the film itself as he screams, leaps, and sings his way through the caper.
While the film remains a faithful parody of the biopic genre, there are also plenty of pleasant surprises. Making fun of something is easy, but Appel and Yankovic keep the material fresh by continually throwing the audience curveballs and taking the movie to places you’d never expect. In the third act, especially, the stakes of the film become ludicrously high as it toys with the action movie genre, but it’s here where the movie seems to unravel a little bit and becomes harder to make sense of. But that’s assuming the film was even designed to make sense.
The movie’s descent into all-out weirdness isn’t actually all that surprising when you remember that, as Radcliffe himself says in the film, Yankovic is “the weird one.” So, if you were expecting a conventional movie from him, and indeed, a serious and faithful biopic, you’re looking in the wrong place. But fans of Yankovic, and even those who know nothing about him, will enjoy this intelligent extravaganza of a film because, above all, it’s a lot of fun and is brimming with not just laughs but also catchy songs and unexpected celebrity cameos. Just take it all with a giant bucket of salt.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story drops on streaming service The ROKU Channel on November 4.