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Daniel Radcliffe makes magic in ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’

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NOVEMBER 11, 2022

Grade: 4.0/5.0

From “Elvis” to “Amadeus,” the biographical picture, or biopic, genre is often reserved for generational greats — the kind of titanic talents who left unmissable handprints on the boulevards of culture. Under the confessional guise of intimacy, the genre taps the heartstrings of nostalgia to transform celebrities into heroes. 

The climactic Live Aid performance in “Bohemian Rhapsody” thrums with this cathartic grandeur, swooping across a packed arena to land on Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek). Now that he’s fired his parasitic manager, won over his dubious family and repaired his relationship with his bandmates, his final reward is unabashed success.

Weird Al is not Freddie Mercury. But “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” directed by Eric Appel, understands that genre is most interesting when it is unraveled, and no story is safe from the parodist’s trademark treatment. Streaming on The Roku Channel, the film co-opts the tropes and cinematic language fundamental to the biopic and filters them through Weird Al’s absurdist machine. The result is a wonderfully goofy satire, perfectly suited for the reigning king of spoofs.

The film was shot in 18 days, but “Weird” reveals no frayed edges of sloppiness, a feat largely indebted to its leading actor. Daniel Radcliffe stars as the curly haired accordion player, delivering a dynamic and full-throttle performance. He makes Yankovic into a sex symbol, the curls of his wig bouncing as he intently sings about a package of bologna.

“Weird” isn’t concerned with truthful appeals. This isn’t the kind of movie that peers behind the curtain of fame or clarifies the past. Instead, it takes a cue from “This Is Spinal Tap” and exaggerates hackneyed tropes — fights with the record label, good touring days, bad addiction days — until convention undresses completely and becomes nakedly over-the-top.

In benign but boring suburbia, a young Al (Richard Aaron Anderson) demonstrates an innate musical gift to the chagrin of his stoic, anti-accordion father (Toby Huss), who wants his son to work in the factory. Al privately hones his craft until young adulthood when his friends — Jim (Jack Lancaster), Steve (Spencer Treat Clark) and Bermuda (Tommy O’Brien) — inspire him to become a musician.

Appel, who wrote the script with Yankovic, dramatizes the latter’s rise to fame with hilarious self-seriousness. The overdetermined scenarios that provoke Al’s songs make the tracks themselves much funnier, and it’s endlessly amusing to watch everyone swoon over Al’s “rare” gift — the ability to “take pre-existing musical compositions and completely change the lyrics,” as an awestruck Wolfman Jack (Jack Black) puts it during a pool party standoff.

The pool party scene, an especially bright highlight, is a testament to the film’s pitch-perfect casting. Rainn Wilson is bug-eyed and brilliant as Dr. Demento, the off-beat radio host who brought Al into the industry. Evan Rachel Wood also stars as Madonna with a bouncing 80s perm and the iconic “Desperately Seeking Susan” big bows and lace gloves. Al’s “Material Girl,” however, is a menace; Madonna spends the film plotting to exploit Al’s fame to boost her own success.

The flurry of unexpected turns that lampoon Yankovic’s life sometimes makes “Weird” come across as an overwrought Mad Libs puzzle. At the same time, the ethos of irreverence mostly pays off. Even if the scene with drug lord Pablo Escobar (Arturo Castro) overstays its welcome, for instance, the consolation prize is watching Radcliffe wield a machine gun with the brutish zeal of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo.

Unrelenting and unbelievable, “Weird” is an homage to Yankovic that both satisfies old fans and wins over new ones. It refreshes the biopic by dissolving pretense. The film affirms that storytelling — in both songwriting and moviemaking — doesn’t need to be so serious, and that instead, it’s rewarding to lighten up.

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NOVEMBER 11, 2022