Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is indeed an odd beast.
This audacious look at the life and times of the iconic parody musician can be called a lot of things, but “true” isn’t exactly one of them. Making its premiere on the free-streaming Roku Channel, Weird is a movie based on a fake Funny Or Die trailer that went viral several years ago and has now been stretched into a full-length feature.
The screenplay, written by “Weird Al” Yankovic and Eric Appel (the latter also directing), plays fast and loose with actual events, and the result lampoons musical biopics in ways about which Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story could only dream.
Yankovic (played as an adult by Daniel Radcliffe) is painted as a misunderstood genius who, as a child, dreams of creating new lyrics to existing songs and performing them on his accordion. His father (Toby Huss, playing a less-supportive but more film-appropriate version of the dad he played in 2018’s Halloween) disapproves of him playing “the devil’s squeeze box” and wants Al to instead work at the factory where fatalities constitute a bad day at the office.
Al leaves home, and when one of his songs hits big, he becomes a star, falling into the excesses of drugs and alcohol, as well as a toxic relationship with Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), while he fights for legitimacy as a musician.
While the narrative is certainly embellished to an uproarious degree, the screenplay (and Appel’s direction) is a little restrained. They expertly skewer the genre, avoiding going too far and veering into slapstick, which Yankovic has been prone to in the past.
Of course, the joke is that the real Al is a meek and largely beloved figure, considered among the nicest people working in music past or present. This movie turns over his lily-white reputation and nice-guy image in a juicy bit of self-aggrandizing and showing out in a way that turns the genre on its head.
Radcliffe is an effective Yankovic, sacrificing some of Al’s inherent nerdiness and silliness but amping up his inner rock star to create a version of the man that could believably inhabit this film. Radcliffe offers just enough geek cred that it’s funny to picture his Yankovic and Wood’s Madonna together, but he’s also cool and attractive enough for the faintest spark of believability. There’s a spark in his eyes behind the huge glasses, mop of curly hair and thick mustache that was Yankovic’s signature look for the first part of his career.
The world these characters inhabit is filtered through Yankovic’s eyes, where kids in the 1970s attend polka parties, but somehow little Al is still an outsider. Here his nerdiness makes him a star, as he brings biker bars to a standing ovation and raptures teen parties with his accordion skills.
The sequence where he writes his first song, the Knack parody “My Bologna,” is every bit as fun as the scene it’s spoofing from Bohemian Rhapsody in which Queen writes “Another One Bites the Dust” (which Yankovic also famously parodied) and sets the tone for the rest of the film.
The supporting cast is dotted with stars, including Will Forte, Diedrich Bader, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Rainn Wilson, Julianne Nicholson and others whose presence is too delicious to spoil here. They all lend an air of reverence for the legacy Yankovic has brought to the world of comedy. There are developments that poke fun at real-life incidents in Yankovic’s career, too, including a picture-perfect nod to his famous beef with Coolio over the song “Amish Paradise” and an ending so gleefully silly you won’t care that it’s completely inaccurate.
As a lifelong “Weird Al” fan, Weird was destined to be one of my favorite movies of the year, but its quality surpasses what I could have hoped. It’s a loving tribute to someone who had an immeasurable effect on comedy for decades and a perfect representation of the man himself.