Biographies are a popular genre of film and television, with many movies and series made every year about both well-known and obscure figures from history. One frequent criticism of biopics is that they don’t accurately portray their subjects, contorting what actually happened for cinematic effectiveness and to tell a neater or more compelling story. When the focus of a biopic has the chance to be involved in its production, it’s typically more true-to-life and better-received. In the case of the inimitable Weird Al, reality doesn’t seem to be an aim, but Weird: The Al Yankovic Story does manage to capture the spirit of its fascinating protagonist.
Based on a trailer for a fake film released in 2010 by Funny or Die, this feature film opens on a young Al Yankovic (David Bloom) who is expressly told by his mother (Julianne Nicholson) and father (Toby Huss) that he should stop being who he is and prepare for a monotonous life of working at the same factory where his father works. After his mother secretly buys him an accordion, an older Al (Daniel Radcliffe) finds his voice in parodying other people’s music with his own lyrics, beginning a peculiar but meteoric ascent to fame that will take him to extreme and absurd heights.
This is a film that will prove particularly rewarding for Weird Al fans, but it should also be accessible to those with little to no knowledge of his story or music. There are moments where it becomes difficult to distinguish something that actually happened from what this film chooses to wildly exaggerate, and that’s part of the fun of watching the experience. Weird Al’s dismissal of an apparently insignificant Michael Jackson should clue audiences in to the fact that, unlike what the film portrays, his song Beat It was not in fact released after and in response to Weird Al’s Eat It.
Another well-known but far more seriously-regarded musician plays a major role in this unreliable accounting of Weird Al’s life: Madonna. Evan Rachel Wood brings her to marvelous life, dialing up her ability to hypnotize anyone she meets and turning Weird Al into someone very different than he wants to be, eager to leave parodies behind and only write his own original work. Watching Wood and Radcliffe together on screen is a delight, and it’s fun to see two performers who started out as child actors continue to evolve as they show no signs of slowing down midway through their thirties.
Radcliffe has already proven himself to be a skilled comedic actor perfectly capable of making people forget his Harry Potter origins with his starring role in three seasons of TBS’ Miracle Workers. He does a spectacular job of leading this ridiculous journey, leaning into the excess and occasionally grounding it when things start to get too out of control. The cast also includes a number of memorable cameos, many of which should be experienced without any prior knowledge and suggest a very enjoyable filming environment.
The biggest stamp of approval that Weird: The Al Yankovic Story has – and perhaps the only one that matters – comes from Weird Al himself, who joins Eric Appel, the director of the original trailer, to pen the script. While this isn’t an honest or accurate depiction of his story, it may still be a truthful one, able to effectively convey what it is that makes Weird Al enjoyable and attractive for so many. The real Weird Al’s involvement confirms that he supports this interpretation of his life and that he’s in on the joke, happy and even eager to put this outrageous spin on what people think they know about who he is. It’s a rollercoaster ride that, though its content is extremely dissimilar, might well be likened to Inglourious Basterds, another example of revisionist history that might actually be preferable to the real thing.
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Weird: The Al Yankovic Story premieres exclusively on The Roku Channel Friday, November 4th.