This review was originally part of our coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Fifteen years later Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Storymusical biopics still haven’t learned their lesson, and if movies like Bohemian Rhapsody and this year Elvis have proven anything is that this type of film still needs satire that highlights their inherent awkwardness and exhausted tropes. There’s no better person for the job than “Al Weird” Yankovic, a man who built his career on parody and whose personal biopic couldn’t help but be a little, well, weird. Co-written by Yankovic and co-writer/director Eric Appel, Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic is the “true” story of Yankovic’s life and career, from his rebellious, polka-party fanatic youth to his wild and fast-paced romance with Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), and all the bologna in between.
Without surprise, Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic is at its peak when it ridicules musical biopics in general. Weird begins with a young Yankovic, whose parents Nick and Mary Yankovic (Toby Hus and Julianne Nicholson) thinks it would be better if Al “stop being who you are and do things you love”. Al hides his love for comedy and his life changes completely when a door-to-door accordion salesman delivers him the instrument that will be integral to his success.
Once Al (now played by Daniel Radcliffe) gets to college, and freed from the watchful eyes of his parents, he can embrace his love of parody songwriting, turning The Knack’s “My Sharona” into “My Bologna,” and soon becoming a huge musical success overnight, thanks to the help of his mentor, Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson). But even though it seems Al’s star will always shine brightly, he’s dealing with Madonna’s bad influence, a desire to please his parents, and even a trip to visit Pablo Escobar (Arthur Castro).
For the majority, Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic plays like a series of sketches centered around the life of the musician, and thankfully the majority of those sketches work. Timing, facts and truth are all thrown out the window for the sake of just having fun with the concept, but Weird always works best when it’s also a parody. For example, one scene shows Yankovic proving himself to a boogie nights-sque pool party, organized by Dr. Demento. We’ve seen this type of scene before in biopics, where the newcomer has to prove himself to his peers, but here it’s so over the top, filled with an absurd amount of cameos and jokes that any semblance of reality is completely irrelevant. Spoiling the cameos would take away a lot of Weirdis fun, but just about every scene includes at least one surprise appearance, and it never gets old throughout the movie’s runtime.
Yet further Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic the further it gets from the biopic parody, the more it falters. Much of the second act focuses on the relationship between Al and Madonna, and while Wood and Radcliffe have fun together in their scenes, their time together goes in a direction that strays a bit too far from the biopic formula. Yes, Madonna is there to represent our star’s inevitable debauched downfall, but how far this idea has come is fun on paper, but never goes far enough. This mid-term gap is also the only time Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic begins to run out of steam and its autonomy is felt. Despite all that, Al and Madonna’s story is certainly fun, but it seems like a way for this story to go to an extreme that it never fully embraces, even if it’s pretty ridiculous.
But the greatest joy of Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic looks Radcliffe as “Weird Al,” with oversized glasses, curly hair, and Hawaiian shirts. Radcliffe is completely game for…whatever, but also shows genuine love for Yankovic’s work and career, and genuine appreciation for this comic legend. This appreciation for Yankovic pervades every performance in this film, from Wood’s corrupting presence to Huss and Nicholson’s absolutely nailing the uncertain parental figures who despise their son’s career choice. It could be a parody, sure, but it also feels like an exuberant appreciation of this man and his comedic genius. What better way to honor Al than to be a little weird?
Through Bizarre: the story of Al YankovicAl says he may not be the best accordionist, but he may be the most famous accordionist in an extremely specific genre of music. Weird may not be the best biopic parody (walk hard still holds that crown), but it’s an absolutely charming and often hilarious look at the world’s greatest parody musician, filled with a great cast who want to pay homage to this weird man. Weird dares to be stupid and succeeds because of it.
Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic arrives on The Roku Channel on November 4.