Over the past five years, the musical biopic has proved to be alive and well. The success of Bohemian Rhapsody put the genre back on the map as a critical and box office sensation. Then, Rocketman found its way to Oscar glory. In the past few years, we’ve seen the stories of Elvis, Aretha Franklin, Mötley and N.W.A. dramatized to great success. However, the formulaic structure of these stories has caused many to sour on the genre as a whole. This provided an opening for a musical comedy biopic to emerge, and sure enough, parody genius Weird Al Yankovic was on the scene. Writing his own biopic with the help of director Eric Appel, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story easily takes the title of the best comedy film in 2022. With dozens of celebrity cameos and an absurdist take on his own life, the parody biopic quickly joins Walk Hard as a comedic achievement.
Weird begins with a young boy trying to find his way in the world. After years of fighting with his father and mother to become a musician, Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) finally breaks through. Under the mentorship of his hero Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), he strikes a record deal and writes hits. After a series of big hits, Yankovic decides to write his own music. Yet some musicians, including Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), need him to continue performing his parodies for their success to continue.
Making a legitimate parody film in 2022 could have led to a mess, but the best biopics often take on the style of their subject. It wouldn’t be Yankovic if it did not go complete parody, and the screenplay lets the comedy fly as a result. While other features would take far more subdued chances, Weird lets the movie get as absurd as the songs. Playing off tropes established by dozens of other popular musical biopics, Appel’s film skewers the many longstanding cliches one expects. Beyond that, it “yes ands” the story, making sure the next step is not only silly but downright hilarious.
While the screenplay makes many references to other features, Radcliffe must craft a character that both homages Yankovic and feels believable within the context of the film. Anyone who saw Radcliffe’s performance as a corpse in Swiss Army Man knows the actor is game for literally anything. He picks up that attitude from his first scenes on screen here. Radcliffe’s commitment to the bit sells the jokes scattered throughout the film. The genuine vulnerability and emotion from his performance may even catch you off-guard. Once again, Radcliffe proves himself a more than capable actor as he builds another impressive performance.
Perhaps the most enjoyable sequences come as Radcliffe’s version of Yankovic discovers how to write the songs that have become so iconic. The “My Balogna” sequence is an excellent ensemble performance, as the three roommates (Jack Lancaster, Spencer Treat Clark, and Tommy O’Brien) honestly sell their surprise at the song’s brilliance. Perhaps the most enjoyable turn comes after “Eat It,” including a gag about the song’s timing on release. Allowing Yankovic to play a studio executive across from Radcliffe is just the right level of brilliance. While some of the dialogue certainly stems from his own experiences, his ability to play up the silliness of his character feels like a decades-long revenge con that finally found its way on-screen.
Another surprisingly fun performance comes from Evan Rachel Wood, who makes Madonna into something of a femme fatale. The relationship between the two might be entirely fictionalized, but Yankovic and Appel ensure that you know the film is in full-on parody mode by the time she’s introduced. With any semblance of reality ripped away from the film, you can now buy in on the opportunist version of Madonna presented. Wood finds her groove by playing every second on screen with double meaning, allowing the audience in on the joke while she continues to fool Radcliffe. The chemistry between the two opens the door for the ridiculous gags as the film progresses. Wood being game for the absurdity is just as essential to Weird‘s success as Radcliffe’s commitment to the bit.
One potential drawback to Weird might be the carousel of cameos that work their way throughout the film. While some are undoubtedly funny, including Jack Black‘s appearance at a Boogie Nights pool party, others mug to the screen for too long. There’s something to be said about Weird Al incorporating his many alt-comic friends into the film. After all, his influence on the art form pushed some of these performers to begin their careers. Unlike Walk Hard, these cameos feel like ways for us to recognize the actor or actress, unlike the character-driven cameos that populated the Jake Kasdan film.
While Weird will certainly turn some away, it feels destined for cult status. This might have always been the case, but its even more exciting to know that Yankovic was able to help guide a ship to parody his own life. The poeticism of it all is almost a little too sincere for the movie’s good. Yet, at the same time, would you ever want anything else from the story of a great comedic singer/songwriter?