For decades, “Weird Al” Yankovic has delighted millions with his parodies of popular music hits, and amassed multiple awards and accolades. But few have known the true story behind the beloved song parodist and accordionist. But now, Yankovic has collaborated with writer/director Eric Appel (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, New Girl, Crank Yankers) for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, a searing, no-holds-barred biopic that chronicles both his meteoric rise to stardom as well as his descent into drugs and debauchery (including a torrid affair with Madonna).
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story had its world premier as part of the storied “Midnight Madness” program at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where critics finally got a chance to see what might be the. Most. Important. Movie. Of. 2022. Read on for their reactions.
Shot in only 18 days, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a feat of parody filmmaking that comes together impressively well, making it the best of its kind since Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (sharing a similar sounding title is no coincidence). Appel’s film is stuffed with campy violence, celebrity cameos, and insider remarks on music and fame that come together for a rollicking good time. In the same way that Rocketman was the perfect biopic for Elton John, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is as absurd, funny, and satirical as a Weird Al Yankovic biopic should be.
In a realm where Walk Hard is often cited as the definitive work of music-biopic parody — both an expert satire of previous films like Walk the Line and Ray, and a sign of more to come with films like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, and even Baz Luhrmann’s inspired Elvis — it would be fairly easy to dismiss Weird: The Al Yankovic Story as nothing particularly special. But Yankovic’s attention to detail and embrace of the absurd is precisely what makes the film so intoxicatingly charming, even in the face of a script that sometimes feels like it’s simply a loose framework for delivering a wave of gags (not all of which will land for each viewer).
By bending reality so that everyone else feels spoken to by the same dorky curios that creatively energized Weird Al, the free-interpretive script lets its embellished hero have it both ways, equally successful and true to himself. The paradigm that positions such magnificent weirdoes — there’s no other word for it — on top of the circa-‘80s zeitgeist also grants the wish of every kid obsessed with something their friends didn’t get: what if you got to pick what was cool? This whoopie cushion of a film raises the concept of the lowest common denominator up to the highest highs of esoteric tastes and in doing so, gets closer to the essence of artistry than all of its self-important, straight-faced forebears.
[I]t should be said that the movie is a bit like Al’s music in the way that not every joke lands, but when they do, they’re so funny they make up for the ones that don’t. Al is famously clean-cut, meaning the movie has very little in the way of blue humor, but one of his strengths has always been that he doesn’t have to be lewd to land a laugh. Instead, he’s clever.
Tonally, it’s as weird as its namesake, and the issues begin when Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) shows up. Pablo Escobar? Drug cartel? Assassinations? Director Eric Appel and the Weird script sacrifice comedy for abject silliness and stereotypes, which deflects from the funny elements. As the film continued, the laughs became less and less because the film became darker in nature, derailing the story and turning into a different film, only to return to form 20 minutes before The Al Yankovic Story was over.
Co-written by the artist (who also costars as a fickle record exec), it’s a kindred spirit to his songs without being so gag-hungry it forgets how to tell a story. Just like his music, it’s not for everybody, and to be sure, there will be few audiences as hungrily receptive as the one at its Midnight Madness Toronto premiere. But it brought the house down here, and should be a boon to the underdog Roku Channel when it arrives there in November.
Weird is to music biopics what Weird Al’s ditties are to whatever Top 40 tunes he twists and transforms: a wacky, nerdy, near-juvenile parody version that somehow, through the sheer willingness to dare to be stupid, comes off as better than the real thing. Better, or at least equally ingenious in how it sends something up.
The movie’s celebrity whack-a-mole makes for a good drinking game, no doubt, but Radcliffe still has to carry most of the story, as gleefully careening and surreal as it is. And he commits admirably to the movie’s full-tilt concept, conjuring a bizarro-world Al both brash and endearingly sincere (and disconcertingly CrossFit-ripped); he’ll throw a man through a plate glass window and drink whiskey like it’s water, but still come home to his parents’ house for a chips-and-sandwich dinner.
What better way for the world’s preeminent parody musician to pay tribute to himself than by using his own life story to parody the biopic itself? While Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, co-written by Yankovic and director Eric Appel, broadly follows the beats of the three-minute Funny or Die fake trailer on which it’s based, the actual film riffs on Yankovic’s career to paint a portrait of the artist as a pop cultural renaissance man who can sell out stadiums, bed Madonna, and take on Pablo Escobar in just a few short years. Appel and Yankovic exaggerate, and then completely diverge from, the truth until their imitation of the real story is all that remains.
Weird aims for the transcendent comedy of Popstar and Walk Hard but never quite succeeds to that degree; thus it qualifies as a modest disappointment. Undeniably funny, very well-acted, and wise in its tonal focus, Weird plays as entertainment that could have been much, much more. There is still much to admire and enjoy, not the least of which is a genuinely triumphant, note-perfect performance from Daniel Radcliffe.
What makes it work is how committed the film is to the bit. It follows the musical biopic formula exactly, but the degree of absurdity just keeps expanding to the point that it doesn’t feel all that out of place when Yankovic eventually becomes an incredibly adept assassin running through the jungles of Colombia. Radcliffe, in particular, really sells it, playing the in-reality goofy Yankovic with a level of seriousness that’s an ideal fit for a music biopic. He narrates with a deep, gruff voice reminiscent of classic movie trailers and somehow manages to turn the iconic ‘stache, glasses, and Hawaiian shirts into a sexy ensemble. Yes, Weird Al is now hot. There are also oh so many cameos complimenting his performance, to the point that I want to rewatch it to see who I missed. (I won’t want to ruin the many surprises.)
It’s essentially a Weird Al parody of a biopic that happens to be about Weird Al. But in recasting Weird Al as a troubled genius with demons aplenty, it loses the absolute charm of its subject and creator. Sure, it’s clever at first, but after a while it starts to feel like you’re watching yet another tiresome biopic that hits the same beats as every other biopic — except this one is supposed to be fake and funny.
Weird: The Al Yankovic will begin streaming on the Roku channel on November 4, 2022. Watch the trailer below.