Saturday, November 5, 2022

Movie Review: Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Weird is destined to be measured against Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and it's hard to deny both films tread similar ground. Both are parodies of music biopics, and both mimic the conventions of the genre and amplify the absurdity. And that's not even touching on the spoilery aspects. But the films differ in at least one key aspect: Walk Hard is centered around its jokes, to the point the movie feels more like a series of loosely connected skits than a unified narrative. Weird goes in the opposite direction, occasionally sacrificing laughs in favor of the whole.

Arguably the funniest aspect of Weird is that it's better as a biopic than some of the movies it's parodying, at least in terms of story construction and narrative cohesion. Throw in a genuinely great performance from Daniel Radcliffe, and you've got what amounts to a perfect facsimile of a "real film" in the genre, at least for the first two acts. This isn't a slapdash parody from the '80s or '90s where the movie spends its runtime winking at the audience: it knows we're in on the joke, so it's free to inhabit the genre it's spoofing. That's of course a much more difficult feat to pull off, as it requires real filmmaking chops, but Eric Appel pulls it off.

None of that actually provides emotional catharsis, of course, because it's impossible to take the premise seriously. But that's kind of the point: as a genre, music biopics are notorious for bending the truth and exaggerating their subjects' histories and personalities for dramatic effect. By replicating the process as well or better than those movies, Weird highlights the artificiality of the genre spectacularly. We're seeing something nearly stylistically identical to a traditional biopic where the content is replaced with ridiculous antics. In short, a perfect encapsulation of how Weird Al's music works translated to film.

Again, that's true for the first two acts. I don't begrudge the filmmakers for wanting to have some fun with the ending, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy seeing the movie shift gears and turn briefly into an homage to the Rambo sequence from UHF. It's also worth noting Weird never stops being a coherent film, with throughlines, callbacks, and payoffs. What it does do is drop the adherence to the illusion this is a "real biopic," and I'd have preferred they stuck with that premise. But's that a matter of preference.

It's hard to overstate how important Radcliffe is to the film. He sells his character's manic state and emotional instability, even in objectively ludicrous situations. He plays Al as a struggling, tormented artist, and he does so fantastically. He could deliver a virtually identical performance in a different movie, and it would come off as genuinely dramatic. A great deal of the movie's humor rests on this juxtaposition: he deserves a lot of credit for making this work.

One area the movie does deviate from most modern biopics (and one where it arguably falls a little flat) is in the singing. The songs are sung by Weird Al, rather than having Radcliffe mimic him, and the movie either doesn't try or doesn't succeed in selling the lip-synching. To be fair, this might have been intentional, as well. Either way, it certainly doesn't hurt this as a parody, but it's one aspect where it stops looking like a "real biopic." 

Even though the ultimate punchline is the movie itself, the individual jokes, while slightly more restrained than you might expect, deliver plenty of laughs, and there's a seemingly endless line of cameos lined up. I was a little surprised not to see more musicians show up in bit parts, though - it's mainly comedians filling out the cast.

It should go without saying, but a lot of the appeal here is going to center on how important Weird Al's music is to you. If you're not a fan, this probably isn't going to change that. But if you grew up listening to his music, I think you'll have a great time. I certainly did.