Biopics: The “Real” Story

Recently, the world has yet another celebrity biopic: “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.” The film, starring Daniel Radcliffe as the titular parody music man, has gotten lots of buzz from the media about everything from Radcliffe’s portrayal of Weird Al to the unconventional plot of the film. What sets this film apart from other biopics is how it uses the classic underdog plot of a biopic and satirizes it. It makes Weird Al’s rise to fame incredibly dramatic and over-the-top. The movie strays from reality and focuses mostly on Al Yankovic’s imagination and perspective. And in a world ruled by paid-for streaming services, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is completely free on the streaming service Roku. So, in honor of this new biopic (biographical movie) making waves in the media, why not explore some of the other biopics about major public figures and celebrities?
First off, easily two of the most influential biopics of the last decade have been Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, both biopics about major rock artists in the 70s and 80s. Bohemian Rhapsody follows the rise to fame of the legendary rock band Queen, as well as the life of their lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Rami Malek, who played the iconic frontman, won an Oscar for his performance in the film, and the movie put Queen back in the spotlight decades after their original songs topped the charts. Rocketman tells the life story of Elton John, one of the most iconic musicians of his time. Taron Egerton puts in a wonderful performance as the iconic Rocketman and sings all of the songs incredibly. Two very important commonalities to these films are how much they were in the public eye and also how they told very incredible queer stories (both John and Mercury are known queer icons in music).
Some other biopics center around important women in pop culture. Judy, starring Renee Zellweger, tells the story of Judy Garland’s fame and eventual downfall. Contrary to most biopics, Judy doesn’t focus too much on Garland’s rise to fame and focuses more on the injustices done against her during her time in the spotlight (and how that mistreatment led to her drug use and downfall). Zellweger won the Academy Award for portraying Garland as well as a Golden Globe and a SAG award. Another important female pop culture figure with a truly great biopic is Selena. The biopic, entitled Selena, follows the famous Latina singer through her rise to fame to her tragic murder at the age of 23. Jennifer Lopez shines in her portrayal of the young singer and this film is a great example of honoring a young star whom the world lost too soon.
But not all biopics have to be about celebrities in pop culture or entertainment. The Theory of Everything follows the life and career of physicist Stephen Hawking. Specifically, the film centers around his important discoveries and his ability to continue his research despite being diagnosed with ALS and living with it for 55 years. On a completely different topic, I, Tonya is about infamous figure skater Tonya Harding, her upbringing in the sport, and her involvement in the assault of fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. Margot Robbie puts in a great performance as the flawed figure skater and is backed by a wonderful cast with Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan.
For every famous blockbuster biopic, many are just as good, but not as popular. For instance, The Runaways is a great biographical movie about (you guessed it) The Runaways. The girl rock band went through all of the trials and tribulations of fame in the 70s. The band had many hit songs like “Cherry Bomb” and started the career of rock icon Joan Jett. Another movie that focuses on a band is the film Nowhere Boy. The film mostly focuses on guitarist and lead singer John Lennon and his upbringing as well as the start of the Beatles. One incredibly powerful biopic is “What’s Love To Do With It”, named after the title of the hit Tina Turner song. The film follows the singer throughout almost her entire life, from her humble and depressing upbringing in Nutbush, Tennessee to her first performance of her hit “What’s Love To Do With It”. The film also focuses on her abusive marriage with Ike Turner and the incredibly dark aspects of her life and fame as well as how she was able to overcome all of it.
But all of these movies beg the question: do historical inaccuracies make biopics bad? For instance, although it was an Academy Award-winning movie, Bohemian Rhapsody was criticized greatly in the press for depicting things like Freddie Mercury’s HIV diagnosis incorrectly. But, many biopics, like Rocketman and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story use inaccuracies to help bring out the subject’s imagination or who they are as a person. Sometimes, exaggerations or the occasional impromptu song and dance number help us to learn more about the person by creating situations that didn’t/don’t happen in the real world.