This is an advanced review out of the Toronto International Film Festival, where Weird: The Al Yankovic Story made its world premiere. It will hit The Roku Channel on Nov. 4, 2022.
Combining Walk Hard with a classic Funny Or Die sketch, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story rewrites history and reinvents the music biopic. This is a film that understands how ridiculous and impossible it can be to endeavor to make a biopic that actually captures not just the work of an artist, but their life. Instead, Weird does for the genre what the real Weird Al does for pop hits: deconstruct it, remix it, regurgitate it, then make it better.
In recent years we’ve seen biopics of some of the biggest names in modern music history, from Queen and Elton John, to Aretha Franklin and Elvis, but Weird Al is not like any of them. As the film itself says, he is technically not the best accordion player, but he is the best-known accordion player in an extremely specific genre. Unlike most YouTube parody-ers and TikTokers, “Weird” Alfred Yankovic has ascended beyond what any musician who takes other people’s songs and changes their lyrics could hope for, becoming just as famous, and even more longlasting, as the people he made fun of — while also delivering genius original songs like Dare to Be Stupid or UHF.
But how do you bring Weird Al’s story to the music biopic genre? How do you capture the bizarre success of his work, his eccentric look and persona, his not-really-inspirational story in a genre as rigid as this one, known for often terribly misrepresenting the lives of its subjects?
The answer, it seems, is to simply let Weird Al be himself, and parody the entire genre to tell the definitive, totally-real-and-not-at-all-fake story of the artist who wore his platinum records as a necklace while talking to Oprah; who was in a steamy hot relationship with Madonna and fought Pablo Escobar; the man whose entirely original song Eat It was blatantly and poorly ripped-off by Michael Jackson; the man with such a successful career he spat in the face of John Deacon when he suggested Al play with Queen during Live Aid; and the man who definitely had the chiseled abs of Daniel Radcliffe. This is far from an Elvis or a Bohemian Rhapsody, but closer to how Rocketman or even Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers documentary play into the myth and the mystery of its subjects rather than try to tell a full and factual story.
Like Walk Hard, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story follows every single trope in the book, from the divine inspiration behind each iconic song, to the obligatory disappointing father, substance abuse problem, and cameos from famous celebrities, all before hilariously lampooning each of those clichés. After all, this is a movie where young Al’s mother looks in horror as she finds… a Hawaiian shirt hidden under her son’s mattress, where the accordion might as well be heroin, and where he comes up with My Bologna while making sandwiches for his roommates and hearing one of them say “open up a package of my bologna” just as My Sharona plays on the radio.
Also like Walk Hard, this is a movie that benefits not only from knowledge of the music biopic genre, but also of Weird Al’s whole deal, because a lot of the comedy comes from how seriously it treats all the bizarre elements of his career. It is still a funny comedy if you are not a curly-hair, Hawaiian-shirt fan, especially once the story becomes fully original, but Weird: The Al Yankovic Story will find a devoted audience amongst those who would rather sing the lyrics to eBay than I Want It That Way.
Weird Al himself, who co-wrote the script with director Eric Appel (who made the original fake trailer for the movie, then starring Aaron Paul as Weird Al), manages to extend the Funny Or Die sketch into a feature film without it feeling thin. Even more importantly, they infuse the script with the essence of a Weird Al bit, quickly going from a straight parody to something off the rails and entirely original and hilarious. Sure, it’s funny to see the fictional retelling of Al’s first concert, or the film’s take on the Boogie Nights-like party scene that includes every celebrity cameo you can think of, but it shines the most when focusing on Weird Al’s deranged super stardom and his relationship with Madonna.
Speaking of Madonna, Evan Rachel Wood does a great job as the Queen of Pop, channeling her skill for self-promotion and go-get-them attitude, while reimagining the singer as a murderous psychopath. Then there’s Radcliffe in a role he’s perfect for, surpassing his bizarre performance in Swiss Army Man by turning weirdness up to 11 and playing Weird Al as seriously as if he was Bing Crosby. Sure, he is much shorter than the real Yankovic, he seems to have more abs, and his lip-syncing is rarely smooth, but that is all part of the charm and the comedy, as if Radcliffe’s Weird Al got possessed by the spirit of an ethereal singer whenever he gets on stage.
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Sadly, some of the jokes don’t land that well, and the third act meanders a bit, but thankfully the movie gets back on track with a finale that should make it illegal for anyone to make a straight biopic in the future. Just like Weird Al’s songs tend to pass the test of time just as much, if not more so than the songs he parodies, the biggest achievement of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is that its approach makes you wish every artist biopic was this weird and deranged. Bring on the Nirvana biopic where Kurt Cobain somehow starts smuggling arms to Nicaragua, or the Britney Spears one that reveals she was possessed by a vengeful spirit. The movie ends with a hilarious original song that both recounts the events of the movie you just saw, doubles down on its historical accuracy, and reminds you that it is technically eligible for Oscar consideration. Now, wouldn’t that be a brighter timeline?