Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Director: Eric Appel
Screenplay: “Weird Al” Yankovic and Eric Appel
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe (Alfred “Weird Al” Yankovic), Evan Rachel Wood (Madonna), Rainn Wilson (Dr. Demento), Toby Huss (Nick Yankovic), Julianne Nicholson (Mary Yankovic), Spencer Treat Clark (Steve Jay), Jack Lancaster (Jim “Kimo” West), Tommy O’Brien (Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz), Thomas Lennon (Accordion Salesman), Arturo Castro (Pablo Escobar), Diedrich Bader (Narrator Al), David Bloom (Teenage Al), Richard Aaron Anderson (Young Al)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 2022
Country: U.S.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
 Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Well, really, what did you expect with Weird: The Al Yankovic Story? Did you think that a biopic about parody-song-performing extraordinaire “Weird Al” Yankovic—who shares a co-writing credit with director Eric Appel—to play it straight? Did you really think you would get the straight story about his life, career, and (dare I say it?) art? If you did, then you probably don’t know much about “Weird Al” Yankovic and should instead head to his Wikipedia page (although who knows how much of that information has been fabricated or elaborated considering that it relies heavily on direct quotes from Al himself). Or you could turn to his 1985 mockumentary video The Compleat Al and its companion book The Authorized Al, both of which are filled with all kinds of completely made-up facts.

So, if you don’t get any actual factual information from Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, what do you get? At its best, Weird is a hilarious parody of the biopic itself. Like “Weird Al”’s parody music videos of massive pop hits, which usually mimicked the original videos shot-for-shot while stuffing them with sight gags, slapstick humor, and caricature, Weird takes on the oh-so-familiar structure of the conventional biopic and then crams in all manner of absurdity that is played just straight enough to lull you from time to time into the sense that you are watching the real deal. But then, you are jarred back to reality when confronted with a scene in which Al’s dad nearly beats a door-to-door accordion salesman to death because he so loathes the instrument to which Al is intensely drawn, or a teenage Al is brought home by the police late one night after being busted at a “polka party,” or any of the scenes in which the adult Al is engaged in an torrid romantic entanglement with Madonna, who just wants to ride on the coattails of his massive success (okay, okay, the “Yankovic Bump” was actually a real thing in the music business in the 1980s—look it up). And did I mention the scene in which Al is forced to travel to South America to play a personal concert for drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, which not surprisingly turns into a bullet-ridden bloodbath?

When Weird works, it is because it finds just the right balance between the legitimate form it is parodying and the ridiculousness of the content stuffed into it. In other words, it is like a feature-length “Weird Al” music video. Daniel Radcliffe, further solidifying his willingness to do just about anything to help us forget he played Harry Potter (which has previously included doing full-frontal nudity on-stage in Equus and playing a flatulent corpse in 2016’s Swiss Army Man), gives a delightfully straight performance as “Weird Al,” intoning with grave seriousness his desire to simply write new lyrics to already existing songs and digging deep into the well of tortured-artist pathos as he descends into narcissistic potential self-destruction (fueled by Evan Rachel Wood’s purring femme fatale Madonna, of course). Al battles with his straight-laced parents (Toby Huss and Julianne Nicholson) and finds a mentor in the comic radio personality Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), who helps him get his start and then oversees his career (he also presides over a pool party attended by a hysterical cascade of pop-culture weirdos, including Tiny Tim, Pee-Wee Herman, Divine, Gallagher, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Andy Warhol, and Salvador Dalí).

Along the way we are treated to many of Yankovic’s major hits, from “Another One Rides the Bus,” to “Eat It,” to “Like a Surgeon,” to “Amish Paradise.” The fact that the film includes a quick jab at the late rapper Coolio, who was none too pleased with Yankovic’s parody of his song “Gangster’s Paradise,” is evidence of how far Weird is willing to go for a laugh. Director and co-writer Eric Appeal is a veteran of dozens of television shows (including The Office and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) who got his start making short films for the comedy website “Funny or Die,” one of which happened to be a faux trailer for a “Weird Al” biopic titled Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. So, in a sense, Weird is a metaphysical culmination of sorts: the literal willing into existence a nonexistent parody film. How postmodern. Not all of it works, but if you have any appreciation for what made “Weird Al” into a multi-platinum musician with an armload of Grammys and an indelible place in popular culture, Weird offers all kinds of amusingly off-kilter pleasures.

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Overall Rating: (3)

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