TORONTO — When a bespectacled young Al Yankovic picked up an accordion, few – especially Al himself – would have predicted the long career in show business that was to follow. But can you imagine if they did? That every step of Yankovic’s path – the first Hawaiian shirt, the epiphany of riffing on “My Sharona” like “My Bologna” – carried the same stupendous sense of fate that resonates in most musical biopics?
It’s a pretty funny idea that shortly before the Toronto International Film Festival’s raucous midnight premiere of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” — a crazy, authorized biopic that takes that concept and hassles as much as possible – Yankovic was still riffing. He was seated alongside Daniel Radcliffe, who enthusiastically plays Yankovic in the film, in a Toronto bar stocked with themed cocktails like “Just Drink It.”
As, and if, Yankovic imagines, “Weird” had that very memorable moment in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” where Tom Hanks’ Tom Parker hears Presley on the radio for the first time, swings dramatically and exclaims “He is white?!” – only it’s Weird Al he hears and responds instead, “He’s weird?!”
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” written by Yankovic with director Eric Appel, does to Yankovic’s career pretty much what the 62-year-old comedian has done to pop songs for the past four decades. He warps it through an amusing mirror. , turning Yankovic’s life into something that, at its most absurd heights, becomes its own parallel reality.
“I never thought this would happen early in my life, and maybe even a year ago,” Yankovic says. “That’s one of the reasons the movie is funny because it shouldn’t exist. There are detractors who say, ‘Why is Weird Al getting a biopic when there’s a thousand names that should have had one before him?” Well, that’s kind of the point. It’s not that I deserve it. The fact that I don’t deserve it is why it exists.
Some, including Radcliffe, would quibble with that. Yankovic has long outlived most of the musicians he parodies. They are one of only five musical groups to have a Top 40 hit in each of the past four decades. That ranks him among the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson, who, of course, each got the Weird Al treatment (“Like a Surgeon,” “Eat It”). The New York Times called Yankovic “a completely ridiculous national treasure.”
“I can’t explain it,” Yankovic shrugs. “I guess it’s just tenacity because I should have left decades ago.”
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” which hits Roku November 4, is itself an unlikely movie that started out as a gag. A decade ago, Appel and Yankovic created a fake trailer for a Yankovic biopic for Funny or Die. Yankovic would play it at his concerts and answer fan questions about the film’s release date. But a series of musical biopics — many of which played so elastically with truth that Yankovic felt they were ripe for parody — made the premise even more appealing. Appel and Yankovic worked on a script and contacted Radcliffe.
“My first reaction to hearing the idea of me as Al was, ‘Wait, what?'” Radcliffe says. “As soon as I started reading it, I was like, ‘Oh, there’s nothing else Al’s biopic could have been, but something that’s inherently a parody of all biopics. musical. “
There are some elements of autobiographical truth in “Weird”, but the film quickly, as Radcliffe puts it, “goes off the rails”, greatly inflating Yankovic’s trajectory and many of his encounters. Madonna (played by Evan Rachel Wood), desperate for the honor of a parody of Yankovic, initiates a romance with him, for example.
“The number of people who have asked me about you and Madonna,” Radcliffe sighs.
Yankovic notes that a door-to-door accordion salesman actually came to his family’s house, as we do in the film. It’s less true that Yankovic’s father abhorred the instrument as “the devil’s squeezebox” and violently beat the seller.
“This scene has been going on for so long,” Radcliffe said, shaking his head.
For Radcliffe, 33, the film is in line with other quirky and experimental films like 2016’s “Swiss Army Man” which has drawn him since playing Harry Potter. A self-proclaimed Yankovic fan who listens to his polkas while practicing, Radcliffe and Yankovic found themselves in many ways simpatico.
“At times in my life, I thought I had to be stoic as an actor and stoic as a movie star,” says Radcliffe. “The success I’ve had since ‘Potter’ has been about everything weird about me leaning into it. That’s the asset, actually, not to be overlooked. And Al is like the model for that.
Radcliffe describes the rapid 18-day filming of “Weird” as “truly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on set.” Prior to the production, he dove into learning the accordion.
“Nobody asked me, by the way. It was entirely self-inflicted,” says Radcliffe. “I mean, if you’re playing Al, what else am I doing?” You must make an honest attempt.
“I can’t tell you what a joy it was to wake up in the morning and have a video of Dan playing ‘My Bologna’ on the accordion,” Yankovic says, sincerely.
“My most common note was ‘Please pump more’,” adds Radcliffe.
Yankovic was only in Toronto for the evening with concerts in Colorado the day before and the night after the premiere. He is currently participating in “The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour” which ends this fall at Carnegie Hall. At his concerts, he now sees his 1980s fans with their children – “and in some cases their grandchildren – which is a little scary.
The continued affection people have for Weird Al — a performer who is pretty much the diametric opposite of an image-conscious, out-of-reach pop star — somehow seems to be still growing. When “Weird” premiered in Toronto, Hawaiian shirts and curly wigs were in full force. On the last day of filming, Radcliffe says, the entire cast and crew dressed up as Yankovic.
Reluctantly, Yankovic acknowledges that there is, in fact, something very real about Weird Al.
“My nickname ‘Weird Al’ empowered a lot of people,” he says. “When I took that name professionally, it was a college DJ in the ’70s. It obviously wasn’t calculated. I didn’t think I was going to be, like, a model decades later. But a lot of people who feel like outcasts or freaks or outsiders or don’t belong in some way would sometimes look at me and say, “Here’s a guy who owns his quirk and he’s comfortable with that.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP