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Dare to be stupid – ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’

November 7, 2022
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I’ve never made a secret of the breadth of my entertainment tastes. I take great joy in the fact that I can derive pleasure from creative works highbrow and lowbrow and everything in between. Sophisticated, sophomoric … doesn’t matter. There are many ways to engage.

What this means is that, when something devastatingly and deliberately dumb comes along, I can meet it where it lives and delight in it on its own terms.

Say, something like a biopic of a famed parody musician that turns out itself to be a parody of biopics? A film that fully embraces strangeness and stupidity in equal measure, producing something that becomes a transcendent (yet still utterly ridiculous) piece of pop culture?

Something like “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.”

The film – currently available on the Roku Channel – is directed by Eric Appel, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside the man himself, Weird Al Yankovic (Note: I acknowledge that it is customary to put “Weird” in quotes, but I won’t be doing that, because as far as I’m concerned, it is his first name). It purports to be a biopic, one that relates the rise to fame of the renowned pop parodist.

And it is – sort of.

You see, what “Weird” does is give the standard biopic the full-on Weird Al treatment. Every trope, every cliché, every bit of over-the-top nonsense you’ve ever seen in a rock and roll biopic? They’re here, but they’ve been run through the same cracked prism that has given us decades of parody songs. This movie is packed with the non sequiturs and random references that serve as the foundation of his music. It is outlandish and ridiculous and utterly bizarre.

In short, “Weird” is, well … weird.

We first encounter young Alfred Yankovic (Richard Aaron Anderson) as a child engaging in his secret shame – comedic music. His mother Mary (Julianne Nicholson) tries to be supportive in her way – mostly by telling him his happiness lies in suppressing everything about his true self – but his father Nick (Toby Huss) is far more blunt, insisting that Al plan on a life of drudgery working at the same nebulously-defined factory at which Nick toils.

It all changes one day when a traveling accordion salesman turns up. Al’s dad goes into a violent rage at the very notion of course, but his mom decides that she’ll get one for him – just so long as he promises to never ever play it front of anyone.

Flash-forward to high school, where Al (Daniel Radcliffe) is a bit of an oddball, albeit a well-liked one. He tries to keep on the straight and narrow, but when some of his buddies invite him to a party, he decides to sneak out and join them. Only this isn’t just any party – this is a polka party.

Told you it was weird.

Al eventually moves in with some of his buddies – Jim (Jack Lancaster), Steve (Spencer Treat Clark) and Bermuda (Tommy O’Brien) – to try and figure out what comes next. A lightning strike of an epiphany hits him (courtesy of a providential combination of sandwich making and The Knack) and in a blur, he writes his first-ever parody song.

Almost instantly, Weird Al is a star. He becomes the protégé of radio legend Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson) and rapidly shoots to the top of the music industry. He is rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams, with artists everywhere clamoring for his parodic work to give their own music the fabled “Yankovic bump.” He is selling out stadiums and setting records for album sales.

He is so famous, in fact, that he attracts the attention of a rising pop star named Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood). There’s an instant spark and the two become a wild and crazy couple, their antics fueled by equal parts sex, drugs and rock and roll. The excesses send Weird Al into a dark spiral, even as Madonna pursues an agenda of her own.

As the wheels of fate turn, Weird Al learns the painful truth that the higher you soar, the further you fall. He might lose everything, yes, but in the process, he just might regain … himself.

As I said, “Weird” is a very weird movie. It uses the soup-to-nuts biopic formula as a skeleton of sorts, but what gets hung on that framework is a wonderful combination of exaggeration and absurdity. The film hits all the beats – the troubled childhood, the rapid rise to fame, the struggles with stardom, the romantic difficulties, the whole bit – but approaches them from the uniquely deranged perspective of Weird Al himself.

I laughed A LOT. Now, I’ll concede that I’m pretty much in the bullseye of the target demographic here, but still – I deeply enjoyed this movie. Anytime a film makes me happily exclaim phrases like “Wow, this is dumb!” and “This is extremely my s—t!”, I can rest assured that I have invested my time wisely.

Among the many wonderful things about this movie is the fact that different people went into it with different expectations. Some knew going in that it was going to be some sort of parody, only to discover just how bonkers it actually was. Others expected more of a standard biopic, only to have the knowing smile creep across their face as they realized what they were actually getting. Boom! Everyone’s happy!

Now, none of this works without a deep and thorough understanding of the assignment on the part of your leading man. Luckily for all of us, Daniel Radcliffe is here to let his freak flag fly. Radcliffe’s combination of performative fearlessness and bone-deep alpha-nerdery makes him the perfect choice for this role. He absolutely slays as our hero, deftly capturing the appropriate energies required of every disparate scene. It is a tour de force performance that serves as yet another reminder of how fortunate we are that Radcliffe has chosen the post-Potter path that he has.

And man, does this movie have a deep bench. I mentioned Huss and Nicholson, who are just first-rate unsupportive biopic parents; Huss in particular is someone who makes everything better. Wilson was born to play Dr. Demento – particularly this Svengali-adjacent version. Lancaster, Clark and O’Brien are a lively supporting trio of buddies/bandmates. And of course, Evan Rachel Wood is exquisite, portraying Madonna with an underlying malevolence that makes her absolutely, hilariously mesmerizing. The commitment she brings – along with her comedic chemistry with Radcliffe – shines brightly throughout.

Oh, and there’s a killer collection of cameos, too. No spoilers – you’ll have fun finding them yourselves – but suffice it to say it’s quite a who’s who of the history of entertainment, both in terms of performers and of the roles they’re playing.

Throughout, we get a soundtrack of some of the man’s greatest hits. Not all of them, of course – there’s simply not enough room – but it’s a nice cross-section. Killer new tune for the end credits as well.

(Note: Daniel Radcliffe does not sing. It’s probably better for all of us, though he has demonstrated a solid flow in the past.)

“Weird” is the kind of all-in nonsense we don’t often get from movies anymore, a hilariously broad comedy with no agenda other than to make you laugh. It’s shaggy and stupidly smart (or smartly stupid) and doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but hey – isn’t that why we seek out Weird Al in the first place?

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 07 November 2022 11:04

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