Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (United States, 2022)

June 27, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Poster

“Weird” Al Yankovic took popular songs of the day and reworked them in his own image, using new lyrics to craft something that was both familiar and different, existing somewhere between satire and outright farce. Is it any surprise, then, that Weird, a bio-pic parody that allegedly tells Yankovic’s life story, exhibits exactly those same qualities? The titular singer’s involvement extends to having a co-writer’s credit so the narrative evidently progresses along Yankovic’s intended trajectory.

Weird proves to be a breath of fresh air blowing through the staleness of the modern musical bio-pic genre. Borrowing the skeleton of seemingly every other movie of this sort, Weird grafts some bizarre alternate-history fictions onto it, creating something that can be deliciously deviant. In truth, there’s very little of the real Weird Al in this production. The singer doesn’t make an appearance (although he does perform all the lyrics); the actor playing him (Daniel Radcliffe) is inhabiting a nearly 100% fictionalized version…or so we hope.

Weird introduces us to Al at a young age. He has Daddy problems. His father, Nick (Toby Huss), wants him to prepare for future employment at the factory where he works, but Al has other ideas. His passion is music – an aspiration that is enhanced when his mother, Mary (Julianne Nicholson), buys him an accordion. In secret, Al begins attending polka parties – a practice that comes to an end when his enraged father destroys his instrument. Years later, Al (now played by Radcliffe) begins toying with parodies of pop songs, starting with “My Bologna” (a riff on “My Sharona”). A local DJ gives it air time but his career really takes off when national celebrity Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson) offers to be his mentor/manager. As Al’s popularity escalates, Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) seeks him out, wanting him to parody her new single, “Like a Virgin.” Al and Madonna begin a relationship and, when she is kidnapped by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (Arturo Castro), Al comes to her rescue, killing Escobar in the process. Not since the assassination of Hitler in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds has a major figure received such an ahistorical demise.

Half the fun of Weird is enjoying the way Yankovic and director Steve Appel (a Funny or Die writer and TV series director who is making his feature debut) skewer the traditional musical bio-pic. (Tongue-in-cheek, Yankovic admitted that he and Appel may have taken some “liberties” with real events to make the story more cinematic.) The other half is revisiting some of the singer’s most memorable parody songs, although those don’t get the same lavish treatment they might have received in something more straightforward.

One amusing twist on reality is that, according to Weird, Al’s “Eat It” preceded the Michael Jackson smash hit by several months and the latter was a take-off on the former. Al is pissed off at this because he believes everyone will assume that “Beat It,” not “Eat It,” was the original. Despite having vowed no longer to write parodies, he pens “Like a Surgeon” to give his girlfriend the “Yankovic bump.”

Weird gets points for the casting of Daniel Radcliffe who, wearing just enough makeup and an outrageous wig, manages to look passably like a young Al. Radcliffe mostly plays the role straight – an approach that adds to the humor of the piece. The film’s other big star, Evan Rachel Wood, never really captures Madonna. She doesn’t look like her and her approach to the character seems naïve. I also can’t help but wish Patton Oswalt (the original choice for Dr. Demento) hadn’t broken his foot and become unavailable. The cast has some notable cameos, including Jack Black as Wolfman Jack, Lin-Manuel Miranda as an ER doctor, Will Forte as Ben Scotti, Josh Groban as a waiter, and Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol.

Weird doesn’t have a strong cinematic texture. It feels like what it would become: a made-for-TV movie. The film’s production was on the cheap-and-dirty side and, at the time of its release (November 2022), it was thought of as being at the forefront of a new wave of low-to-mid-budget productions that would bypass theaters altogether to join the streaming revolution. Had Weird been released (and promoted) by a Netflix or Amazon Prime, it might have found an audience – it’s certainly good enough to warrant being “discovered” – but it ended up on The Roku Channel. Since few people have heard of this platform (which is free, although ad-supported – a huge annoyance), its obscurity doomed the movie to low viewership. Yet this tongue-in-cheek parody of the genre has grown more relevant as the number of humorless musical bio-pics continues to expand. Give me Weird Al and his Tall Tales any day over the grim glumness of Back to Black or the blandness of Bob Marley: One Love. Yankovic understands and takes to heart the maxim of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (United States, 2022)

Director: Eric Appel
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rainn Wilson, Julianne Nicholson, Toby Huss, Evan Rachel Wood, Arturo Castro
Home Release Date: 2024-06-27
Screenplay: Al Yankovic & Eric Appel
Cinematography: Ross Riege
Music: Leo Birenberg, Zach Robinson
U.S. Distributor: The Roku Channel
Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Home Release Date: 2024-06-27
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Content)
Genre: Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1