2020s, 3.5/4, Comedy, Eric Appel, Review

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

I really thought that Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story had cornered the market on musical biopic satires. There was nothing else to say or even make fun of. And then Weird Al Yankovic took the Funny or Die short from a decade ago and, along with his co-screenwriter and director for the film, Eric Appel, and made a film that goes well beyond the established satirical bounds of the previous film, pushing well further into satirical surrealistic nonsense, while also sidestepping everything the earlier film had done in terms of lampooning biopic conventions. I haven’t been able to watch a biopic, especially a musical biopic, with a straight face since the Jake Kasdan film, and now Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is going to make it even harder. This was one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while.

“Weird” Al Yankovic, the real guy, is boring. He lived in a middle class home as a child with loving parents, grew to love Dr. Demento, learned the accordion, got a degree in architecture, and quickly rocketed to stardom in the early 80s with funny parodies of popular songs. As he said on his VH1 special decades ago, he’s boring. What better life to build an absolutely bonkers fake story of alcohol, drugs, and violence in the music industry than his?

Instead of being in a loving household, his mother (Julianne Nicholson) and father (Toby Huss) hate how he’s so weird. When young Al buys an accordion from a traveling salesman, his mother lets him have it on the condition that he keeps it secret from his father. However, Al’s love of polka music can’t resist peer pressure when, as a teenager, he’s taken to an underground polka party at a friend’s house where he lets loose with his growing skills, awing everyone into silence. Growing up (as Daniel Radcliffe), he rooms with three other guys with dreams of entering a band (any band, including punk bands that decline this weird, accordion playing guy for some reason) until he comes up with the magnificent idea of parodying The Knack’s “My Sharona” with “My Bologna”. He’s quickly on the path to stardom, especially when he makes his second masterpiece, “Rocky Rhode”, which he plays in front of a hostile biker crowd and immediately gets them on his side through the power of playing someone else’s music while changing the words.

Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson) becomes his manager at a party that includes *checks notes* Tiny Tim, Paul Reubens, Salvador Dali, Elton John, and Elvira among others. He rockets to stardom, creating the “Yankovic bump” where original musicians see increases in sales with the release of his music. However, he has grown tired of the parody game and releases his first original title: “Eat It.”

Now, those who have the barest of music knowledge (*raises hand*) knows that “Eat It” is not an original work, but a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, and that’s where the movie really begins to diverge with reality. There have been touches on reality like the traveling salesman or the first recording of “My Bologna” happening in a public restroom (both true), but it’s here where the film says that it’s not going to tell something real. It’s going to tell something ridiculous, and I was completely on board.

The first act of this film is the best part of the film, and it’s something glorious. Joke after joke hinging on great delivery from mostly Daniel Radcliffe, it’s a series of funny genre conventions turn on their heads in the most ridiculous ways while including the real Yankovic’s music.

The second act is dominated by Madonna, and it’s still amusing, just not at the same level. Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) learns of the Yankovic bump (double entendre? You decide) and makes it her mission to get it for herself. She takes over Yankovic’s life, despite his dedication to only writing original material (even with Michael Jackson deciding to turn the tables and parody Yankovic by releasing “Beat It”…in the movie), and it’s all in the mission to get him under her spell to write a parody of something of hers. She becomes the Yoko Ono of the group, pushing him further into alcohol and drugs while splitting the band until he gets into a wreck on the first night of a tour, ends up in a hospital, and gets the inspiration for “Like a Surgeon”, his parody of “Like a Virgin” (turned into a full on-stage number moments later because this is a comedy and it’s funny).

This middle act is amusing and functional, but it doesn’t have the rapid fire bite of the first act. The third act, though, is something else. Where the film had begun to leave reality behind with the writing of “Eat It”, it tosses it aside with a gleeful laugh when *checks notes again* Pablo Escobar, noted fan of Weird Al, kidnaps Madonna so that Weird Al will play at Escobar’s birthday party and Weird Al becomes a super assassin to rescue his darling before she decides that they should take over the drug business. This crap is hilarious.

The finale involves reconciliations with family, including a lost past with the Amish (completely messing up the timeline of events), and the whole movie has built to this ridiculous moment. It works, and it’s kind of hilarious.

I was laughing through most of this film and with a stupid smile through the whole thing. This is light, built well enough dramatically so the third act doesn’t feel like air with jokes, and a pointed parody of the genre it’s aiming at. It seems obvious to me that both Yankovic and Appel studied Walk Hard to make sure that they repeated as little as possible (if only straight musical biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody did the same) while forging their own path in the same place.

Really, this is superiorly funny stuff. Radcliffe has great comic timing (I love that he decided to just be interesting after Harry Potter instead of trying to be serious or dominate another franchise), and he makes the film. The supporting cast is really good as well (Evan Rachel Wood has never looked better while also really feeling like Madonna at the same time). I kind of loved this, and I really hadn’t expected to. I remember seeing the trailer for the first time a few months ago and thinking that it would be, at best, a mildly amusing diversion. Instead, I walked away from the experience absolutely delighted. It only makes me sad that this was released by Roku because I know that I’ll never be able to actually own it.

Rating: 3.5/4


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