By Chris Jimenez
There is a canon of American musicians, and there is a canon of American comedians, and the powers that be keep them clearly demarcated in our minds; The Hendrixes and the Presleys and the Cobains of culture are not spoken of in the same breath as the Carlins and Bruces and Seinfelds, yet there is one elusive trickster figure who meets every criteria to be included in both groups but is vehemently denied membership, at least until now; “Weird Al” Yankovic. Yankovic has entertained America musically and comedically for over five decades, yet those who hold the keys of power have only now deigned to recognize him with the American equivalent to knighthood, with an overly sincere biopic stuffed to the gills with stunt casting and timely references… and said biopic is just so damned good it may ruin the genre for everyone else. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a film that pays homage to the oeuvre of its subject in a way few films can, because it simultaneously comments on the text of Yankovic’s oeuvre while taking on the same spirit; it is a parody of self-serious, formulaic musician biopics (Walk the Line, Ray, Rocket Man, etc.), gleefully and obviously fictionalizing Yankovic’s life. How many musical biopics and related media feature a stern, conservative father who is hell-bent on squashing their child’s burgeoning musical talent? How many films feature a random strike of genius inspiring a top 40 hit, when in reality the song was the result of hours of songwriting and iteration? And, of course, how many times have you caught a dramatization of a musician’s life that relies on substance abuse to create third-act stakes? These are all present in Weird because we have conditioned to expect them, just as we expect the melody of “My Sharona” when we hear the opening bars, only to have a sensible chuckle when the lyrics of Yankovic’s parody “My Bologna” come through the radio? Director Eric Appel fundamentally understands the appeal that has kept Yankovic in the public consciousness since the 80s, the gleeful dismantling of the universality of pop music. Appel juggles the demands of comedy and biography with legerdemain only matched by the film’s subject, whose mastery of the arts of parody and musical composition have made him a household name. All of the praise, of course, should not fall at the director’s feet; star Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter) fame expertly embodies Yankovic’s public persona of hyperreal earnestness, understanding that the point of the character isn’t just “weirdness for weirdness’ sake” but the true ownership of strangeness; to be so damn weird and so damn infectious that we all have to say that normalcy is itself an outlier. Who among us hasn’t forgot the lyrics to a song originally parodied by “Weird Al,” even being convinced that the parody was the original? That phenomenon itself is addressed in the film in a beautiful twist, solidifying Weird: The Al Yankovic Story as a brilliant piece of meta-comedy. The joke is not the song, the joke is not Weird Al, the joke isn’t even the (admittedly hilarious) cameos of famous comedians performing surface-level Forrest Gump-style boomer cameos as late 20th century comedy and pop figures (with a particular shout out to the inimitable Jack Black as “Wolfman Jack”), the joke is fundamentally about being a fan of Yankovic’s songs, and in doing so captures the essence of the performer that is “Weird Al” better than any other biographic film may encapsulate its subject.