Film Review – Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Growing up, Weird Al Yankovic existed in a strange place in my memory, which he would probably take as a compliment. With his curly hair, mustache, and accordion, I always knew him as the musician who made those funny parodies of popular songs. As I got older, I came to appreciate his off-kilter humor and undeniable musical talent. Although his work riffs other artists, we can’t deny that he doesn’t have his own unique flair and pizzazz. There’s a reason why the songs he covers experience a “Weird Al” bump in popularity. It’s like his choice of songs to cover are a golden ticket for audience exposure.
It would make sense that Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022) would translate the same sense of irreverence. Based on the Funny or Die online video, the film takes the familiar structure of a musical biopic and laces it in a fever dream. Director Eric Appel (who cowrites with Yankovic) takes so many liberties in tracing the rise of its subject that we can’t be sure where the truth begins or ends. And yet, somehow it works. In the same way Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) subverts the genre through legitimate craft, so does this, but in a more extreme way. We dive into Yankovic’s head and see his entire life through his warped, hilarious perspective.
I’m not sure viewers who are really interested in learning about Yankovic will get what they ask for. What’s real or not is twisted so much that the entire production acts as a bizarre performance art. In this version, Yankovic’s parents (Toby Huss, Julianne Nicholson) tell him to give up his dreams of musical stardom. In real life, his parents were supportive. His inspiration for “My Bologna” came while listening to “My Sharona” on the radio and making, that’s right, a bologna sandwich. There’s a running bit where Yankovic develops a hatred for Michael Jackson. In this universe, “Eat It” came out first and “Beat It” is the parody. In reality, Yankovic only had one encounter with Madonna which lasted a few minutes. Here, she plays a major role (played by Evan Rachel Wood).
See what I mean? The narrative is so off the wall and bonkers that we can’t be sure what to believe. It’s almost better to experience this as a gonzo art project. That idea cannot be better exemplified than with the casting of Daniel Radcliffe as Weird Al. Radcliffe looks nothing like Yankovic, and in a way that makes the performance even funnier. He jumps into the role with full conviction, sporting the hair, glasses, and accordion like badges of honor. Although Radcliffe lip syncs the musical scenes (with Yankovic rerecording some of his most famous hits), he commits to the performance with his entire physical being. Once we see him burst out of an egg in a dream sequence, body glistening with sweat and rocking out on a guitar, we understand that this character – and the film itself – is more suited toward a fantasy than an actual biopic.
The plot is, well, indescribable. Yes, it starts out with Yankovic climbing the ladder to become a star. Appel’s direction (with cinematography by Ross Riege and editing by Jamie Kennedy), structures the early scenes with a rambunctious, “Behind the Music” like energy. Documentary footage, archival photographs, and personal testimonies are staged to make Yankovic’s climb feel large. The pacing moves at such breakneck speed that we simply don’t have a chance to consider how wacky this all is. One moment, Al and his friends are recording a demo in a public bathroom (which apparently really did happen), to getting managed by a top hat wearing Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), to attending pool parties with Andy Warhol (Conan O’Brien), Pee-Wee Herman (Jorma Taccone), and Alice Cooper (Akiva Schaffer). And this is just skimming the surface. Once Madonna shows up, the story takes a wild tangent, going places where plausibility no longer exists. Evan Rachel Wood matches Radcliffe’s go for broke performance, creating a dynamic duo that is unhinged in the best way possible.
So, is there anything to gain from something that started as an online gag? Yes, and it is in the way the production embraces its strangeness. What made Yankovic so endearing to fans is that he has always been earnest about who he is. He has never pretended to be something that he is not, even when parodying other people. It’s that genuine sincerity that seeps through the narrative. Being “weird,” living on the fringes of society, and not conforming to the mainstream is applauded. In that sense, Weird Al and Madonna are a lot more alike than they are different. The further along we go, the more Yankovic’s very image is molded, reshaped, and redefined to be something different, yet still completely his own. The ending sequence highlights this with the subtlety of a jackhammer. Sometimes, it’s ok to have fun, be ridiculous, and not take things so gosh darn seriously.
I had a blast with Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Its charm is easy to fall for. How it maintains its highwire act is funny and impressive at the same time. I don’t know if we learn anything of the actual person once the credits roll, but sometimes, the facts don’t really matter.