Mock biopic about the life of the nerdy song parodist should be seen with as large and enthusiastic crowd as possible
WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY (Eric Appel). September 9, 12:15 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox; September 18, 9 am at TIFF Bell Lightbox. See listing. Rating: NNN
TIFF’s decision to open its Midnight Madness program with Weird: The Al Yankovic Story was truly inspired. Festival-goers have likely yawned through dozens of earnest, awards-baity biopics about the rise, fall, self-destruction and redemption of artists. In telling the story of the nerdy song parodist, first-time feature filmmaker Eric Appel – who created a 2010 viral video about the same subject – sends up all of these clichés, plus a few more from other genres.
There’s the fabled introduction of Yankovic’s beloved accordion, via a hapless door-to-door salesman who encounters bloody resistance from Al’s violent, factory-worker dad (Toby Huss); there’s the teenage Al’s (David Bloom) gift for wordplay; and there’s a scene in which the older Al (Daniel Radcliffe) is away at college and, making lunch for his roommates, is inspired to pen his future hit song My Baloney – to the music of the Knack’s My Sharona – which promptly gets him acknowledged by his idol, and future mentor, the syndicated radio host Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson).
There are also the requisite fraught encounters with record producers (Will Forte and Weird Al himself), a celebrity-packed pool scene and, in the film’s most outlandish fantasy, a relationship with Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), who uses Al so her own pop songs will get boosts in sales, and drug leader Pablo Escobar, who turns out to be a big, gun-toting Weird Al fan.
The entertaining result should be seen with as large and enthusiastic a crowd as possible. (The hooting, hollering MM audience fit the bill perfectly.)
While a few of the jokes feel laboured and repetitive, the film gets by on its sheer absurdity. Radcliffe plays his scenes entirely straight – there’s no winking at the audience – and so is all the funnier. And Wood’s turn as Madonna in her Lucky Star/Borderline period is astonishing – she gets the singer’s physicality and voice down perfectly.
While the cheesy genesis scenes of Weird Al’s clever songs are amusing, it’s more fun to play spot the cameo. Often, as in the above-mentioned pool scene, celebs will be dressed up as other celebs, providing a visual representation of what Al has done with music.
Be sure to stay for the closing credits, which include a song that toots its own horn for best original song Oscar consideration.