Yankovic story gets a little … weird
Film blurs line between fact, fiction
When Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was released 15 years ago, it skewered music biopics like Walk The Line and Ray so thoroughly that the subgenre was in danger of ever recovering. The comedy went on to inspire a fake trailer for a real music icon a few years later, a three-minute clip for a movie dubbed Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. But as the straight-faced music biopic came back with commercial hits like Bohemian Rhapsody and Elvis, so has the satire of the same subgenre.
Twelve years after the Funny or Die clip that teased a tongue-in-cheek look at “Weird Al” Yankovic’s life and career, we now have a full-length feature to match. Expanding from his original comedy short, director and co-writer Eric Appel throws a bushel of comedy concepts into his directorial debut with predominantly ripe results.
After an uneasy childhood with his father and mother (played by Toby Huss and Julianne Nicholson, respectively), Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) moves away from home and tries to make it on his own as a musician. Making bologna sandwiches for his roommates one day while The Knack’s “My Sharona” plays on the radio, inspiration strikes and he replaces the original words with silly lyrics of his own. His newfound proclivity for parody songwriting catches the ear of Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), an eccentric radio broadcaster who offers to manage “Weird Al” (a stage name he comes up with for his new client) in his burgeoning career. The duo find that when Al spoofs a song, the original artists benefit from an increase in record sales, and when Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) notices this “Yankovic Bump” phenomenon, she decides she wants in.
Where Walk Hard covered a fictional music icon in Dewey Cox, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story involves an artist who’s not only still alive, but is still making music, a reminder: Stay through all the end credits for some extra yuks. While the ludicrous exaggerations and hilarious falsehoods about how the real-life Al rose to fame are naturally the funniest aspects of the film, separating them from the nuggets of truth is good fun, too. Some of the movie’s events, from a young Al becoming inspired to pick up the accordion from a door-to-door salesman to his first recording being done in a public bathroom, are actually true to life. On the other hand, one can assume a pool party Al attends with all manner of personal idols from drag queen Divine to surrealist artist Salvador Dalí didn’t quite occur as portrayed on-screen.
As ridiculous a scene as this seems, music biopics still stretch artistic license and try to get away with a milder version of these “fortuitous meetup” moments in their films. Weird also goofs on the “eureka!” beat to which we’ve become accustomed, a bit of dramatic irony where we in the audience know even more than our protagonist on just how impactful a moment of inspiration will be for their journey. Not only does Al stare at a packet of bologna with growing intensity, but the title words of “My Sharona” repeat over and over as he does, reminding us just how ham-fisted these “made-for-movie” moments can be. Some of the more broad comedy, like a subplot involving Al rescuing Madonna from the clutches of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, recalls the antics of real-life Al’s foray into movies with his 1989 cult classic UHF.
Adapting a fake trailer into a 100-minute movie comes with expected obstacles, and there are points where Weird makes a better case for itself as an hourlong comedy special as opposed to a full-fledged film. Even though he’s thumbing his nose at the fall from grace and subsequent redemption arc we see in these narratives, Appel runs low on steam in the third act before landing things nicely with a final scene that sums things up in suitably outlandish fashion.
When people watch comedies, they may note while watching the points at which the story gets in the way of the laughs, but in retrospect, what matters most is the sequences where the humor truly clicks. Those who like their biopics to stick close to the facts will wince throughout Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, but those who jive with “Weird Al” Yankovic’s playfully irreverent spirit will eat it up.
New movies coming this weekend
Coming only to theaters is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a Marvel superhero movie starring Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o about the leaders of Wakanda fighting to protect their nation against invading forces from a hidden undersea city after King T’Challa’s death.
Streaming on Netflix is My Father’s Dragon, an animated fantasy starring Jacob Tremblay and Gaten Matarazzo about a young runaway who searches for a captive dragon on Wild Island and finds much more than he could ever have anticipated.
Continuing at Cinema Center is Moonage Daydream, a documentary about rock iconoclast David Bowie compiled of live concert footage and previously unreleased footage from his personal archives.