VOD film review: Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Accessibility to newcomers6
Laurence Boyce | On 12, Nov 2022
Director: Eric Appel
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson, Toby Huss
Weird: The Al Yanjovic Story is available to stream on the Roku Channel. For more information on how to get the Roku Channel in the UK, click here.
If you’re neither American nor someone who grew up in the 80s, then you might not realise how wildly popular “Weird” Al Yankovic was in the early to mid-80s. In a decade that was being defined by the brash and the garish, the moustachioed and poodle haired nebbish was having huge success with song parodies that audiences just – pardon the pun, if you know Yankovic’s work – ate up. Michael Jackson’s Beat It became Eat It while Bad become Fat. James Brown was Living in America. Yankovic was Living with a Hernia. Madonna may have been Like a Virgin but Yankovic was Like a Surgeon. His silly, ridiculous and always endearing lyrics undercut the pomp and bombast of many cultural icons of the era. When the 80s started to fade away, Yankovic’s fame might not have been at the height of what it once was, but he remains revered by stats and public alike as he parodies the likes of Nirvana, Lady Gaga, Eminem and Pharrell Williams.
You would have thought that the life of such a person would be replete with wild and insane stories. But given that Yankovic is a clean living, non-cursing vegetarian then the debauchery is pretty much non-existent. So how does biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic story get around this? Easy: it just makes it all up.
All young Alfred Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) wants to do is to gain the respect of his parents. And also play the accordion. But when his father decries both accordions and the practice of adding new lyrics to existing songs, Al finds himself thrust into the wide world. After making a sandwich, Al has a creative urge: The Knack’s song My Sharona would benefit from being called My Bologna. And an icon is born.
Under the mentorship of legendary American DJ Dr Demento (Rainn Wilson), Al takes the world by storm. But when Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) enters his life, things seem to spiral out of control. Does she really want Weird Al for his personality or is she after him for his parody lyrics and the legendary “Yankovic Bump”?
Based on a trailer that first appeared on Funny or Die in 2010, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story delights in skewering all of the attendant clichés of the musical biopic. The beats of the film mirror those of a myriad other films in the genre. Person has difficult relationship with parents. Person moves out, finds fame and success. Booze and bad relationships bring everything to a crashing halt. Person finds some sort of redemption. It’s an age old and familiar story, but that’s the joke.
Of course there are few things that are actually mirrored in real life (Yankovic was indeed partly discovered thanks to Dr Demento), but by the time we get into Al getting into gunfights in the jungle and invading Pablo Escobar’s birthday celebrations, then you’ll realise any reality in the movie is only a passing coincidence. As with many of these films, those without a passing knowledge of Yankovic and some of the minutiae of American culture from the 80s may find a few of the jokes sailing over their heads. But there is just about enough broad humour here and general biopic parody to keep the uninitiated entertained.
The film does run a little long, unable to sustain the humour as the film drifts to its conclusion. Also, while its takedown of biopic tropes is gleeful, one can’t help feeling that Jake Kasdan’s brilliant (and still sorely underrated) 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story got there first in puncturing the genre.
Radcliffe is very good as Yankovic. While he’s an energetic presence onscreen (his singing voice is obviously dubbed by Yankovic, with the lip-synching off just enough to make it another deliberate joke), it’s his persona that really makes the role. With an actor famous for general niceness and a lack of controversy – just like Yankovic himself – his attempt to embody a character meant to a conflicted egomaniac with a drinking problem creates humour just by sheer dissonance.
The rest of the cast go at it with gusto. Wood is an uncanny 80s Madonna while the film is awash in cameos, from Yankovic himself (as a record label boss) to comedians such as Jack Black, Emo Philips, Conan O’Brien and Will Forte. The sheer number of fun little appearances show you what a high regard Yankovic still has among many.
While it may not be as ground-breakingly satirical as it thinks it is, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is still a lot fun and will be sure to have you pulling your accordion out of the closet and back in the front room where it belongs.