The biopic is tired. Any time a new project is announced, it’s the same routine. Pictures surface of an actor in makeup or sporting wild hair. The awards buzz begins, and then debates surrounding the line between mimicry and performance occur. What Roku’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story does, however, is shake the dust of those tropes and gives the middle finger to the genre. You want accuracy? Read a book! Eric Appel’s ode to Al is absurd, whimsical, and as game-changing as the man who inspired it. Led by a fearless performance by Daniel Radcliffe, Weird is the musician origin story that all others should be compared to.
You know what kind of movie you are in for when a young Al Yankovic replaces the word ‘grace’ with ‘grape’ when thinking of ‘Amazing Grace,’ and the young prodigy says, “I made it better.” At a young age, Al’s father didn’t approve of polka music (“the devil’s squeezebox!”), but his mother secretly buys him an accordion of his own. It’s no coincidence that Michelle Williams buys her son his first camera in The Fabelmans, and he goes on to become Steven Spielberg. Mothers bought their sons covert, creative conduits, people! Keep up!
By the time that Radcliffe pops up on screen as a young Al, Weird is briskly moving towards detailing the artist’s success. His roommates are supportive and witness his immediate inspiration for “My Bologna,” and Rainn Wilson pops up as Al’s mentor, Dr. Demento. There are dizzying highs! Huge success! You’ve seen this before! But, no, you haven’t!
When Evan Rachel Wood crashes onto the scene as a gum-smacking, winking version of Madonna, Weird takes an even more drastic, inspired turn. Al and the Material Girl begin such a torrid collaboration that, surely, the genius of Al Yankovic will be ruined by this crucifix-donned temptress?! No other artist but Al Yankovic would dare to bend his own history to make fodder like this, and no other artist like Madonna could handle the jabs that Yankovic and Appel’s screenplay take. There is a reason why Madonna is a legend–she doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and neither does Al. Wood has never been more game in her career, and she coos and moans with vibrating glee.
Between Swiss Army Man and Miracle Workers (and even The Lost City and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) Daniel Radcliffe proves one again that he is one of the most willing actors of his generation. His Al is eager, arrogant, assured, and coy all at once. He lip syncs like a pro and he makes Al Yankovic sexy again. Radcliffe, simply put, gives a tour-de-force performance. Give him any and all awards you want. An Emmy. An Oscar! Are the Cable Aces still around? A Nobel, thank you very much! The mustache quivers and the curls quake on Radcliffe’s head. He’s absolutely alive when he’s on stage.
I have never before seen a film so confidently skewer the genre it was participating in while being refreshingly sly and stupid. It’s gut-bustingly funny and demands that you play with the form. If Al Yankovic can have this much fun with his own life, you can do the same. You just have to play around with the words and the rhyme.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story debuts on Roku on November 4.