Is Weird: The Al Yankovic Story the movie we need right now?

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Is Weird: The Al Yankovic Story the movie we need right now?
I can’t tell you how sick I am of the classic epiphany moment that leads to a big musical hit or a rockstar’s downward spiral into drug use and alcoholism. It’s all rather depressing and quite overdone — glorifying a usually untrue fragment of what leads to the lasting impact of a band or artist.

That’s why movies like Weird: The Al Yankovic Story are rare and important in this day and age. Much of Hollywood has become a lightless chasm of recycled content, whether it’s in the form of remakes, superhero films or, sadly, music biopics. The music biopic genre as a whole has become so riddled with tropes that even though they are about very different musicians, they all seem to blend together. 

This is why a movie like Weird, starring Daniel Radcliffe as the five time Grammy award-winning Al Yankovic, is important: it’s a reminder that movies can still be original, wacky, lighthearted and fun. The whole movie is of course presented as 100% true, and in the classic Yankovic fashion, a smart parody of the modern music Oscar-bait biopic. 

Weird’s inception actually goes back almost a decade. A skit trailer from Funny or Die, starring a pre-Breaking Bad, curly-wigged Aaron Paul as Weird Al set the whole idea in motion. Now, director Eric Appel, who directed the original skit, can mark Weird: The Al Yankovic story as his feature-film directorial debut. The new film was also produced with Funny or Die, so we essentially have the same team, with different actors, building off a joke they made 10 years ago. But it works. It works if you’re willing to just turn off your brain and let the madness ensue. 

As a child, Alfred Yankovic is a weird outcast who enjoys changing up the lyrics to established songs, his first being “Amazing Grapes,” as his parents, Mary (Julianne Nicolson) and Nick (Toby Huss) ask him to sing a song. He discovers the accordion after a traveling salesman (Thomas Lennon) shows up on his door one day, and soon after, attends underground Polka parties, which, in the film’s universe are treated like the drug crisis in Reagan’s America. And this joke about polka being sinful and illicit isn’t just a throwaway joke, but a crux for part of the movie, leading to more hilarity.

Eventually Yankovic starts to try and make his satirical music, failing an audition for a punk band with his accordion, but soon creates his breakout single “My Bologna,” his take on the Knack’s “My Sharona.” He catches the eye of his favourite radio host, Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), who aids Yankovic during his chaotic ride to fame. One of the ways he helps is by treating him to LSD-laced guacamole, which leads Yankovic to trip and write “Eat It.” 

From there, the film moves at a clip, wasting no time showing Yankovic’s steady rise to mega stardom as a jester of modern music, parodying the action movie genre for a quick spell of lunacy involving Pablo Escobar. 

Radcliffe plays the character of Weird Al straight, and even though the actual vocals in the film are over-dubbed and sung by Yankovic himself, he gives every song performance his all with a big stupid dedicative grin on his face. You can tell that he and every actor, no matter how small their part, had an absolute ball making Weird. Evan Rachel Wood’s over-the-top vogue clown performance of Madonna, who essentially becomes the Machiavellian villain of the film, is also thoroughly entertaining. 

In real life, Yankovic is a clown, but a respected one with a tonne of famous friends. So the cameos are endless, yet some highlights have to be Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol, Jack Black as Wolfman Jack, and the prince of alt-comedy, Emo Philips, as Salvador Dali. Seriously, Emo’s performance should be its own movie one day.

Now, if you’re not a Weird Al fan — if you haven’t blasted his wonderful musical parodies on family car trips or sung his mocking lyrics in the mirror — this movie might not be for you. I would still encourage a watch if you want to be entertained, but the humour is very much Weird Al and, at times, recalls the same tone of his 1989 cult film UHF, in which Yankovic played an imaginative TV personality under a backdrop of satire chaos. 

The only criticism I’ll give Weird: The Al Yankovic is the fact that Yankovic himself, who plays the record executive who first rejects Weird Al, desperately needs the audience to know that he is in on the joke; that his whole career has been one big joke. At times, he almost takes an omniscient point of view and while he doesn’t break the third wall, it feels like he’s constantly asking the audience ‘do you get it?’ Yes, we do. The funniest parts of this comedy drama are when the film lets loose, like the John Wick-esque diner fight scene, or Weird Al’s dad beating the hell out of the traveling salesman, so we don’t need to be reminded that it’s supposed to be funny.

Weird is not completely on par with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story — perhaps the greatest music biopic parody — but it’s damn close. This film will no doubt go down as a fantastic example of what you can do with musical parody, or maybe it will find its own cult following. ■

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is now streaming on Roku.

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