Weird: The Al Yankovic Story review: absurd, but in a good way
Weird: The Story of Al Yankovic begins with a shirtless Daniel Radcliffe screaming in a hospital, demanding a pencil and paper from Lin-Manuel Miranda. From there, things only get weirder. While it may resemble the life story of the titular parody singer, the film is actually more of a parody of biopics than anything else. Like Run Fast: The Story of Dewey Cox the many overly serious films about great musical stars, Foreign does the same thing, only pretends it’s about a real person. After watching, I don’t think I know anything new about Yankovic – and I certainly know a lot of things that aren’t even remotely true. Fitting for a man who writes absurd lyrics about popular songs, Foreign takes a popular concept – the music biopic – and makes it equally absurd. In the same way that I still can’t believe when “Amish Paradise” gets stuck in my head, I couldn’t believe how much I laughed during Foreign.
The film follows the typical route of the biopic. We start with humble beginnings, move on to the meteoric rise to stardom and suffer through the tragic fall from grace before finally reaching the redeeming conclusion. The difference here is that almost everything is made up, and the filmmakers have no interest in telling you what’s real or fake.
Yankovic’s love for the accordion is thus transformed into a rebellious act of rebellion. His father, a stern man who works in a dangerous factory that… makes something, calls musical parodies “evil” and Al’s favorite instrument “the devil’s squeeze box.” Later, an elderly Yankovic is arrested by the police after sneaking out to perform at a high school polka party. But the movie really kicks into gear — and gets totally ridiculous — when we meet the grown-up Weird Al, played by Radcliffe.
For starters, his meteoric rise happens literally overnight, and his success is comically huge: he’s been on the cover of every magazine, is named the sexiest man in the world, and breaks virtually every sales record in the world. industry. He becomes the biggest star in the world and other pop stars beg him for parodies. At one point, at a party with everyone from Andy Warhol to Pee-wee Herman, Salvador Dalí exclaims that “Weird Al will change the world.” I don’t want to spoil all the jokes, but just to give you an idea of how strange things get, there’s an LSD trip through hell, a life-defining romance with Madonna, a recap of the origins of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, and a feud with Pablo Escobar. My favorite ongoing joke is the multiple extremely literal origin stories the film makes up for songs like ‘My Bologna’ and ‘Like a Surgeon.’ It even ends with a surprisingly sweet (but also fake) origin for ‘Amish Paradise’.
What makes it work is how committed the film is. It follows the musical biopic formula exactly, but the degree of absurdity continues to expand to the point where it doesn’t feel so out of place when Yankovic ends up becoming an incredibly adept assassin running through the jungles of Colombia. Radcliffe, in particular, really sells it by playing the in-reality goofy Yankovic with a level of seriousness ideal for a music biopic. He tells in a deep, gruff voice reminiscent of classic movie trailers and somehow manages to turn the iconic ‘stache, glasses and Hawaiian shirts into a sexy ensemble. Yes, Weird Al is hot right now. There are also oh so many cameos complimenting his performance, to the point that I want to rewatch it to see who I missed. (I don’t want to ruin the many surprises.)
Now that I’ve seen the film, I realize that I probably don’t want a real-life story of Weird Al’s life after all. Foreign is not a success because it gives me a kind of deep insight into the tormented life of a brilliant artist. It’s a success, as it’s the most extreme and weird broadcast of music biopics to date, one that uses a real-life figure to make those wacky and certainly not real moments even harder.
Weird: The Story of Al Yankovic streams on the Roku channel from November 4. This review is based on a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.