This article contains spoilers.
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” showcases a whole new side of parody-songwriter “Weird Al” Yankovic’s life from beginning to untimely end.
Released on Roku Nov. 4 and directed by Eric Appel, the film focuses on a semi-fictional retelling of Yankovic’s (Daniel Radcliffe) career. The film begins with his childhood fascination with variety radio host Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson) and his early love for the accordion. As the film progresses, Yankovic rises to stardom with hits like “My Bologna,” “Another One Rides the Bus” and “Eat It,” but subsequently falls on hard times when he begins to date Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) and turns to alcohol to cope with the fraught relationship with his father (Toby Huss). Eventually though, Yankovic reconciles with his father and reaches a new height in his career, and then he is assassinated.
At its core, this film is ridiculous. For example, Yankovic kills Pablo Escobar (Arturo Castro) and Madonna takes charge of Escobar’s drug cartel. Much of the mechanics of the plot and jokes rely on surprise and absurdism, which is expected in a film called “Weird.” This absurdism forces the viewer to laugh because it is so bizarre .
However, these silly moments could get old very fast if it were not for the genuinely witty moments that pepper this film. In the scene where Yankovic first approaches two music producers, Tony and Ben (Al Yankovic and Will Forte), they scoff at his work and Ben goes on a long rant about how worthless Yankovic is. The unexpectedness of Yankovic in the role of a serious producer creates tension in the scene between the character Yankovic and the real-life Yankovic. This tension comes to a head in the moment when Tony interrupts Ben’s tirade, saying Ben should go a little easier on Yankovic. It’s moments like these that demonstrate how self-aware and thought out this film is. The film isn’t just throwing in ridiculousness for the sake of it; it is intentional.
The key to “Weird” is Radcliffe’s wonderful performance as Yankovic. His acting is delightfully over-the-top because that is what the role requires, without being tacky. He also balances parody and sincerity in a way that shows how the two can coexist. In one scene, Yankovic, at the height of his success, calls home from the terrace of his mansion. Facing his father’s disappointment, Yankovic hangs up and sighs. Though this is a parody film, Radcliffe adds a subtle moment of raw emotion which gives this film an unexpected heart.
On its face, “Weird” is a comical film that ridicules the biopic genre as a whole. But, not so far underneath the silliness, there is a gesture toward bigger questions of authenticity and what it means to decipher truth within what is obviously fiction. These questions are best brought up even before the film begins when the actual Yankovic pops up on the screen and claims that the following film is a one hundred percent truthful account of his life. Though this is a self-aware and insincere claim to authenticity, this moment seems to challenge false claims of authenticity that manifest everywhere in our digital age. One only has to glance at any celebrity’s Instagram page to see obviously doctored photos put forth as reality. We are collectively duped every day by these false claims of authenticity, and “Weird” grapples with this cognitive dissonance.
Another moment that reckons with truth is the credits, when a slideshow of images of the real Al Yankovic flash on the screen. The pictures begin with authentic depictions of memories from Yankovic’s childhood, but they slowly evolve into worse and worse photoshops of the fictional events that happened in the film. The change from real photos into fictional ones is so gradual that it is impossible to see exactly where the line between the two truly is. This challenge to authenticity is what makes this parody film more than just silly, it is silly to a point.
The subtle social commentary, along with Radcliffe’s outstanding performance and the incredible comedy of the film, combine to create a remarkably unique and thought-provoking movie. Above all, though, this film is immensely fun. “Weird” succeeds precisely because it is enjoyable and all of its wonderful, ridiculous and insightful parts fit together seamlessly in order to create this joy.