There’s only one way to properly make a biopic of the life of Al Yankovic, and that’s to get weird with it. That’s precisely what director Eric Appel did, co-writing Weird: The Al Yankovic Story with the king of polka parody himself. Together, they decided truth isn’t what people want in a musical biopic. They want drama, addiction, sex, mighty highs, and crushing lows — all the cornerstones of the subgenre (and many great Behind the Music episodes). Fronted by Danel Radcliffe in the lead, Weird delivers all of this on a rocky road of parody and mayhem that’s fittingly outlandish and pretty damn fun.
At the film’s World Premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, Yankovic and Appel revealed that the origin of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story was the 2013 Funny or Die sketch imagining such a movie in the form of a parody trailer. Many of the scenes from this popular sketch, which Yankovic has played at his concerts for the last decade, make it into the final film, including parents who disapprove of their son’s “weird” interests, the comedy legend seducing Madonna and lashing out at his fans, and Yankovic cameoing as a disdainful record exec. But can a feature-length movie sustain this sketch concept? Nope.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story parodies musical biopics with pleasure.
Don’t get me wrong. Weird has a lot of fun with the cliches of rock stardom and the biopics it inspires. Weird Al (Daniel Radcliffe) is reimagined as a creative genius whose success comes at the cost of alcohol abuse, badgering his bandmates, and hollering at anyone who rejects his vision. His fictional road of adversity has everyone doubting him — from his conservative parents to a college punk band, record execs, and famous disc jockey Wolfman Jack (played here by a swaggering Jack Black). But he’s got his bandmates by his side, and the Material Girl (Evan Rachel Wood) in his bed, setting up scenes of rock ‘n’ roll decadence, tensions rising, and epiphany moments for some of Yankovic’s greatest hits, like “My Bologna,” “Eat It,” and “Amish Paradise.”
Like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Weird turns the mockery up to 11, with Weird Al throwing out absurd markers of success, like claiming he’s got more hits than The Beatles and was considered for the role of James Bond. The totally ’80s setting allows a panoply of stars to pop up as icons of the era, from Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol to Quinta Brunson as Oprah Winfrey. This turns a pool party scene at Dr. Demento’s (Rainn Wilson) into an amusing game of calling out cameos and costumes. But the standout scenes are all about Weird Al’s big music moments.
The best of these might be the creation of “My Bologna,” which gleefully mocks moment-of-inspiration narratives with a ludicrously literal interpretation. From there, the band swiftly comes together, creates the track, and doesn’t just become an overnight success but an over-the-hour success, throwing them into an outrageous apartment-thrashing celebration. Of course, then comes the requisite charting: the heights of fame getting to our hero’s head, spinning him into excess, ego trips, and the overwhelming urge to win over an unimpressed parent. These moves nod to movies like Elvis, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Rocketman. But Radcliffe makes the role of Weird Al his own.
Daniel Radcliffe and Evan Rachel Wood shine in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.
If you’ve not kept up with Radcliffe since his Harry Potter days then you’re missing out on some of the sharpest comedic turns of this century. There’s been nothing too weird for this English actor, who has thrown himself into humorous mash-ups like the messy horror romp Victor Hugo, the eye-popping action-comedy Guns Akimbo, the brilliant anthology satire series Miracle Workers, and the brilliant and utterly bizarre Swiss Army Man, in which he played a reanimated corpse whose rancid farts made him a rotting Jet Ski.
With this résumé, Radcliffe’s casting as Weird Al was almost inevitable. In Weird, Radcliffe leans into the comedy stylings of Gene Wilder, who played every joke — no matter how hysterical — with intense sincerity. It’s this sincerity that makes Weird work. Radcliffe is not only rejecting the common conceit of Weird Al’s bouncy persona for our amusement, but also is low-key mocking the A-listers who court Oscar attention by resurrecting icons of the music industry with thirsty portrayals. By playing every scene like it might be whisked into the bombastic Best Actor sizzle reel, Radcliffe keenly mocks the self-aggrandizing nature of the musical biopic, which befits the real Yankovic’s vocation of lampooning popular music. But more than that, it’s just plain stupid fun to watch a lip-snarled Radcliffe scream at shattered bandmates that he’s the “weird one.”
And yet, Evan Rachel Wood proves a scene-stealer, bringing an unapologetic giddiness to an absolutely bonkers version of Madonna. She masters Madge’s mid-80s accent and mix of street smarts and bubble gum pop. As the clingy girlfriend, she hangs onto Radcliffe with the elegance of a sequin cape, shimmering even when she has no lines. But in the third act, Wood is given uncharted Madonna terrain to trek. She does so with a gusto so enthralling it almost overcomes the movie’s meandering. Almost.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is taking on too much parody.
Beyond mocking musical biopics, Weird delves into lampooning other genres. There are shades of coming-of-age dramas when a teen Al thrills his peers with his accordion skills at a secret polka party — only to be brought home by frowning police officers. And his father’s (Toby Huss) scowling disapproval of all things accordion-related feels like a riff on the wrathful blue-collar values that would stifle the dancing hero of Billy Elliot.
Then, in the third act, Weird surrenders absolutely all grips on the reality of Yankovic’s tale with a kidnapping that spins into numerous fight scenes, international intrigue, and a violent showdown with a notorious kingpin. It’s a hard pivot that bets its audience craves lunacy and nostalgia for all things outrageously ’80s. But the turn is so intense it might disconnect viewers from the emotional core of the story in this action-packed tangent. Personally, this bit threw me. But props to Appel and Yankovic for creating a rock ‘n’ roll ending that couldn’t possibly be called predictable.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a weird and wonderful watch.
While it wobbles on the courage of its comedy convictions in that final act, Weird is so full of dare-to-be-stupid jokes, cheeky allusions, wacky songs, and earnest nostalgia that it’s undeniably entertaining. Will it change the way you look at the music industry or Weird Al? Probably not. Will it change the way you look at Madonna? Weirdly, maybe. But is it a kooky comedy worth your time? If you’ve ever sung along to anyone of Yankovic’s parodies, then yes.
Weird is sure to delight Yankovic’s fans with its enthusiastic absurdity.