If you have ever watched a music biopic, you know how the story goes. Artist is born, or a band is formed, they get discovered, then find fame and success, tragedy strikes and they suddenly lose all their fame and fortune, but don’t worry, a well-time comeback concert will give them success again. And they realize the money isn’t important; it is the music. It was always the music. The screen goes black and a paragraph shows what will happen to our main character later in life.
Sounds familiar, right? While writing that paragraph, hundreds of music biopics came to mind. In the past few years, we have seen biopics about Queen (2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”), Elton John (2019’s “Rocketman”) and Elvis Presley (2022’s “Elvis”). All of which, if you take away the glitz and glamor, have the same plot with a few differences in between.
I’m not putting any of these movies down. I saw all three in the theaters and enjoyed them to varying degrees. But I feel like we have become oversaturated with the music biopic.
It seems like every year, some Oscar-contending life story gets released or announced. While doing research on this article, I found out that biopics about Madonna, Cher, Bob Dylan and Dolly Parton are all in different stages of development. And a Whitney Houston biopic titled “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” is scheduled to be released this December.
When a biopic is released, I always see videos or articles usually from WatchMojo or Buzzfeed with titles like “Things that were missed in the movie” or “Fact or fiction: things that were made up for plot and things that were not.” A biopic is not a documentary; it will make up things for dramatic effect. The purpose of the movie is to be entertaining.
Now sometimes, a music biopic will break the rules the genre has set for them. Take 2002’s “24 Hour Party People,” a film about the rise and fall of the Manchester-based record label Factory Records (1978-1992) and its founder Tony Wilson. It also takes the viewers through the careers of the bands signed to the label such as Joy Division now known as New Order, Happy Mondays and many more.
Tony Wilson, played by Steve Coogan, breaks the fourth wall many times in the movie, acknowledging that it is a movie. He even at one point says, “When forced to pick between truth and legend, print the legend.”
Wilson knows he is an unreliable narrator and only tells or shows the parts to the audience that make him look good or that will immortalize him in music history. But also just completely making up scenes that have no basis in facts. With him in voice-over revealing that never really happened. “24 Hour Party People” blurs the line between reality and fiction.
Who better to make a parody of biopics than the master of parody, “Weird Al” Yankovic? Well, that is exactly what he did in co-writing “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” (2022). This movie is a highly fictitious telling of Yankovic’s life.
This movie covers all the cliches of the biopic, from the line, “You’ve changed man. Fame’s really gotten to you,” to the black screen with a wall of text I mentioned in the opening, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Harry Potter) really sells the plot’s ridiculousness in his performance as Yankovic. And who knew an accordion would be the emotional center of the film?
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” obviously is trying not to tell the truth; it’s over the top and making fun of a type of movie we have all seen.
The music biopic is never going away anytime in the near future. I guess next time you go see a biopic, take it with a grain of salt.