' ' Cinema Romantico: Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

It only makes sense that in mounting his own biopic in tandem with director Eric Appel, beloved musical parody artist “Weird Al” Yankovic would render it as a parody of biopics. Now that is not a new approach. Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow did the same thing 15 years ago with “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” right down to the bullying father seeking to thwart his own son’s dreams that “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” also comically employs. (“It’s confusing and evil,” says “Weird Al’s” father, as played by Toby Huss, of the young Al changing the lyrics to Amazing Grace, a pretty funny joke equating parody lyrics with blasphemy.) “Walk Hard,” however, was more barbed in its satire, seeming to exist partially as a point-by-point rebuttal of each cliché spouted by 2005’s Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line,” a call to arms, almost, as much as a comedy. “Weird Al,” though, the person is lauded as a true nice guy, generally always asking for permission before recording his parody songs. And so even if there is a scene where Weird Al’s father beats a door-to-door accordion salesman to a bloody pulp, in spirit, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is less satire than spoof, having as much fun with the character’s own persona as the genre.

In his 2020 New York Times profile of “Weird Al,” Sam Anderson theorized that Yankovic’s secret sauce was normalizing weird. And in a sense, Appel’s faux biopic honors that diagnosis, emblemized in the moment when Al’s mother discovers a Hawaiian shirt hidden in his bedroom, the music swelling as the shirt seems to glow like Excalibur. In the world of “Weird,” polka parties are cool, the accordion is a rock star totem on par with the guitar, “I Love Rocky Road” at some heavy metal club becomes Bruce Springsteen at the Harvard Square. A “Boogie Nights”-like party at the home of “Weird Al’s” mentor Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), meanwhile, puts the parodist on par with artists like Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí and when rock ‘n’ roll’s great evangelist Wolfman Jack (Jack Black) espouses non-belief for “Weird Al’s” parodic preferences, “Weird Al” makes him believe by taking up the famed disc jockey’s dare and inventing his Queen spoof “Another One Rides the Bus” on the spot.

The moment might specifically be a send-up of a similar one in the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but spiritually it is a send-up of every cinematic A Ha! Moment ever blended with a kind of “8 Mile” battle rap by way of accordion, made all the more hysterical by Black’s ardent dedication in playing an overconfident foil. The genesis of this parody song, like an earlier moment when “Weird Al” summons “My Bologna” out of the sandwich-making mist, teases his own gift for parody lyrics by inflating it to epic proportions just as the nifty reversal that in the world of “Weird” imagines his “Eat It” parody as an original and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” as the spoof has fun with the sort of artistic discontent the late Coolio expressed about “Weird Al” parodying “Gangsta’s Paradise” and then disavowed. 

The songs as performed in the movie are lip-synched by the real “Weird Al,” not unlike how “Get Up” had Chadwick Boseman lip synch to James Brown’s real vocals; you can’t fake The Hardest Working Man in Show Business and you can’t fake “Weird Al.” That, however, is to take nothing away from Radcliffe, who is wholly committed to the part. And that is to say he is completely committed to playing “Weird Al” as an angry, lewd, self-serious rock star, the increasingly bewildered intensity of his expression as the plot amusingly devolves working in superb juxtaposition to all those Hawaiian shirts. The descent of this version of “Weird Al” into VH1 Behind the Music territory is exacerbated by the character’s love interest. As the old saying in show business goes, if you have the chance to write yourself into a fictional relationship with Madonna, you have to do it, and “Weird Al” does, paving the way for a gleefully game Evan Rachel Wood to play the part by taking gum chewing into the realm of performance art. If “Weird Al” is sending up its character’s squeaky-clean image than it does the same with Madonna’s relentless ambition, seeking out Al to further her career by having him cover “Like a Virgin,” before the Material Girl becomes the Yoko Ono, or what the clueless perceive Yoko Ono to be. She is the villain, in other words, an offensive banality stretched to the point of joyful absurdity by essentially transforming Madonna into Dan Hedaya in “Commando,” which has the double joyful effect of ultimately making this “Weird Al” a martyr for daring to be stupid. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Evan Rachel Wood AMAZED me with the accuracy of her Madonna speaking voice. A triumph.