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If you were to ask me who are the greatest musical artists of the past 100 years, I’d first wonder why the hell you asked me. But, as I answered, I would have to say Prince and Weird Al Yankovic. Prince’s place is obvious – talented, a supporter of musicians, etc. – but Weird Al also fits the definition of artist. He’s a musicologist in a jester’s outfit, a man who gets music and truly reaches you – art that makes you laugh for many different reasons.
His “biopic” Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is also art. In fact, it’s art in the sense of James Joyce’s quote that the emotions art produces are where “The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.” Art takes you out of yourself, and this movie – also a comedy – definitely does that.
Weird is a fictionalized telling of Weird Al’s career, but that doesn’t do it justice. It takes the all-too familiar beats that many a bad biopic shoved a real person’s life into and does it with Weird Al’s life (which is often rather tame). The result is the movie version of one of his songs – taking one thing and making it about another.
However this is not a song, but a movie about a real person, real events, played by real people. It’s also done with a straight face, except for a few over-the-top moments and sly lines. The result is surreal, jarring, and funny – where familiar faces and situations appear scrambled inside an often misused story framework. We know Weird Al didn’t have an affair with Madonna, but the film has that happen because a bad romance is a common biopic trope.
As these falsehoods occur on the screens, the actors sell it with sincerity. Daniel Radcliffe is exceptional as Weird Al, capturing both his sweetness and going off the rails in service of the plot. Rainn Wilson does an almost disturbingly good Doctor Demento. Evan Rachel Wood’s life-ruining Madonna is basically one of Madonna’s old personalities brought to life. Even when he has but one scene as Wolfman Jack, Jack Black embraces it with a passion to be both the man and the bad biopic role he fills.
It’s all very wrong, all done with a straight face.
Watching Weird is funny, but the more you know about Weird Al (and I’ve been a fan of his, especially into the 90s) the more the experience keeps taking you outside of yourself. It’s so gloriously wrong about everything that you don’t know what will happen next. It’s also so familiar in its use of bad biopic beats that it’s a savage mockery of tropes we’re used to. A Fauxumentary if you will, where you’re both unsure of what is to come but completely sure you’ve seen it before.
Thus I really have to consider this art – because it keeps knocking you outside of yourself. Is that a trope or real? Wait why is that history out of order? Isn’t that plot twist something every bad biopic pretends happens anyway? How can these people say these stupid and false lines without laughing themselves silly? Wait, aren’t a lot of these supposed real-life documentaries just this dumb?
It is perhaps the perfect film to falsely sum up Weird Al’s life as it’s, well, just like his songs. But it’s not just appropriate or a good jab at the media. Weird is a reminder that art doesn’t have to be staid and dignified – it can wear a Hawaiian shirt, have an affair with Madonna, and eat LSD-laced corn chips.