Glossy, grandiose and with a tendency to brush over their subjects’ worst moments, the Hollywood music biopic has become big business over the past five years. In that time we’ve had Queen, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and David Bowie, with films about Whitney Houston, Bob Dylan and Dolly Parton on the way. In fact, so frequent have these movies become, that it’s easy to imagine a studio exec with a clipboard somewhere ticking off a long list of aging stars, dollar signs spinning in their eyes as they go. One name you wouldn’t expect to get the cash register chiming though, is ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe as the titular parody songsmith, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story makes for the perfect antidote to modern popstar blockbusters. For starters, very little of it is actually true. Alright, Yankovic was inspired to learn the accordion by a door-to-door salesman. But his father definitely didn’t beat the guy half-to-death afterwards. Yes, he did zoom up the charts in the ‘80s with spoof renditions of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ (‘Eat It’) and ‘Like A Virgin’ (‘Like A Surgeon’) by Madonna. He never met Madge for more than 30 seconds though – and absolutely did not date her.
Yankovic has made tons of cash out of being extremely silly – so it makes sense that the film of his life is too. After a half-believable intro section which follows Yankovic’s white picket fence upbringing in smalltown America, Weird gets progressively more surreal until a now-famous, drug-addicted, alcoholic Al emerges naked from a giant egg on stage, covered in goo and playing electric guitar to thousands of screaming fans. The rest of the film details his return to sobriety – including other bizarre highlights such as a birthday party shootout with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar; Al’s top-hatted mentor Doctor Demento (played by Rainn Wilson); and a John Wick-style fight sequence in a diner. It’s loads of fun, and often very funny too.
Radcliffe, who looks nothing like Yankovic, is clearly enjoying himself. He’s purposely chosen oddball projects to work on since Harry Potter, playing a sentient, farting corpse in 2016 comedy Swiss Army Man and a character who wakes up to find he has guns bolted to his hands for 2019’s Guns Akimbo. Here he takes those eccentric tendencies to another level opposite an all-star cast of stellar comic talent including Jack Black, Patton Oswalt, Quinta Brunson and, unexpectedly, Evan Rachel Wood, whose scheming Madonna is a hilarious surprise.
Occasionally, it all gets a bit too on the nose. The constant mock-veneration of Al’s lyrical prowess is overdone – and co-writer Yankovic’s desperate need to show he’s in on the joke quickly grows tiresome. And yet, Radcliffe’s winning performance – like a goofy high-schooler who wins the lottery – is enough to keep everyone laughing. Top that off with an album’s worth of quirky cameos, including Conan O’Brien’s genuinely laugh-out-loud Andy Warhol impression, and you’ve got a cult classic in the making. M-m-m-myyy bologna!
- Director: Eric Appel
- Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson
- Release date: November 4 (The Roku Channel)