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‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’: The quintessential biopic

Before I watched “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” I knew very little about “Weird Al” Yankovic. What I knew was that he wrote song parodies and that he played the accordion. That’s it. However, the movie is so full of extremely specific aspects of his life that I have no reason to doubt Weird Al. I’m taking everything the movie told me as truth. After all, who would lie in a biopic? 

Hoping my sarcasm transcended the page, the film revels in making up the most ridiculous lies they can about Yankovic’s life. The film presents dramatic origins for many of his songs, with the most outrageous being “Another One Rides the Bus,” “I Love Rocky Road,” “My Bologna,” “Eat It” and “Amish Paradise.” One of my favorite parts of the movie is how it presents certain songs, particularly “Eat It” and “Amish Paradise,” as written by Yankovic but stolen by other artists. Additionally, the film claims that he dated Madonna, was the world’s deadliest assassin and frequently assaulted music executives in states of rage. 

Now, the fictionalized history of his life isn’t just for comedic effect, but rather a natural extension of Yankovic’s style: taking what other artists have done and adding his own spin on it. The movie hits all the classic biopic notes, with clear inspiration from “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman,” which highlight: natural talent at a young age, unsupportive parents, artists meeting their collaborators, immediately becoming a jerk after success, experimenting with drugs, alcoholic rage, performing themselves to death, the lowest point in their career before they reach a new high and, finally, everyone forgiving the artist no matter how badly they treated others throughout the film.

While most biopics present their comeback after their “lowest low” as pivotal career moments, such as Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” or Queen’s performance at Live Aid, it was Yankovic’s performance of “Amish Paradise” at the 1985 Grammy Awards that sparked his comeback. Again, the only real information I have on his career is this movie, and I feel I know less after watching it than I did before, but I am confident “Gangsta’s Paradise” was a 1995 release. While historical inaccuracies are just a fact of the biopic genre, I’m confident this movie is more fictional than truthful. 

Nevertheless, the film’s writing is fantastic, with a lot of scenes that feel dead-serious until you get to a ridiculous line that reminds you what movie you’re watching. In the film’s world, polka is the height of debauchery. Only a biopic about Weird Al would have the lines, “I don’t know if it’s from God or the Devil, but the world needs to hear this” and “Pablo Escobar sends his regards.” While the writing is great on its own, it is carried by amazing performers that treat their roles with the utmost seriousness, heightening the absurdity of it all. Daniel Radcliffe portrays Al Yankovic, and he brings his all to the role. Evan Rachel Wood’s portrayal of the movie’s antagonist, Madonna, is unpredictable, always keeps the audience on their toes and has an insane character twist in the film’s third act. 

This movie is bizarre, but that just furthered my enjoyment. The performances being so earnest, as if it were a real biopic despite the ridiculous plot lines, on top of the self-awareness that writing parody music is a bizarre career path to gain fame from, makes the movie so much more enjoyable than the simple joke of “a dramatic biopic of Weird Al.” It takes that idea and elevates it into a film that is not only entertaining, but a poignant reflection on the musician biopic genre as a whole, making us ask ourselves, “When does exaggeration go too far?” The answer turns out to be insisting that Michael Jackson ripped off “Weird Al.”

Title: “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

Director: Eric Appel

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson

If you liked: “This is Spinal Tap,” “Rocketman”

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu.