It’s fitting that a bio-pic of “Weird Al” Yankovic doesn’t contain a single
authentically biographical moment from his life. “Weird: The Al Yankovic” isn’t
out to deliver an honest overview of the subject’s life and times, it’s a “Funny
or Die” co-production, presenting not just an exaggerated take on Yankovic’s
career, but a complete farce concerning the twists and turns of his existence.
It’s in the tradition of “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” delivering a parody
of bio-pics for the master of song parodies, turning his experiences into an
operatic understanding of career determination and the intoxication of ego.
“Weird” is often hilarious and always on the prowl for silly business, with
director Eric Appel (who co-scripts with Yankovic) really going wild with this
examination of one man’s quest to win the world over with his accordion and love
of wordplay, facing incredible odds against his success and physical threats
from Pablo Escobar.
When he was a child, Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) was a fan of Dr. Demento (Rainn
Wilson), dreaming of a future where he could write special songs that parodied
the hits of the day. His parents disapproved of such ambition, with father Nick
(Toby Huss) preparing his boy for a life of factory work. Acquiring an accordion
and escaping to Los Angeles, Al hopes to develop his incredible skills as a
musician, only searching for the right inspiration. It comes in the form of
bologna, kicking off Al’s climb up the charts, nailing hit after hit, which
fattens his bank account and inflates his ego, making him insufferable. Getting
close to the superstar is Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), who’s looking for an
unbeatable collaboration and a torrid romance, blurring Al’s mind as he strives
to create an original hit capable of turning him into a respected performer.
“Weird” is strange, and that’s the point of the production, which plays it cool
for a few minutes, tricking viewers into believing the feature is a genuine
portrait of the artist. The story begins in the 1970s, but dates are soon shooed
away, with the writing preferring to use random bits of Yankovic’s history to
fuel comedic situations. As a boy, Al was offered an accordion by a traveling
salesman, giving him a musical outlet his parents couldn’t stand, with Nick the
ultimate disapproving dad, clinging to the safety of a 9-5 job (he refuses to
share the wage or even the goods the factory produces). Al finds comfort in his
talents, wowing gathered cool kids at a polka party, soon taking a chance on
himself with a move to L.A., finding roommates but not immediate inspiration.
“Weird” parallels many moves from “Walk Hard,” including the spark of genius,
with Al’s life changed when he matches a package of bologna to the sounds of The
Knack’s “My Sharona.” Genius is soon born.
Instead of walking through the years, goosing achievements in Yankovic’s life,
“Weird” goes random, skipping around his growth period, which is helped along by
Dr. Demento, who becomes a manager of sorts for the polka fiend, guiding him
through the pitfalls of fame and the pressures of live performance. Appel has
quite the directorial challenge with the picture, which bounces around scenes,
and the production goes full “Muppet Movie,” packing in as many cameos as
possible. Perhaps the most delightful use of famous faces is found during a pool
party loaded with celebrities, with Wolfman Jack (Jack Black) challenging Al to
come up with a parody for “Another One Bites the Dust,” in front of Queen
bassist John Deacon (whom nobody knows). It’s a mighty test of speed and
silliness, with guests such as Andy Warhol (Conan O’Brien) and Gallagher (Paul
F. Tompkins) looking on, and the scene captures the special oddity of “Weird,”
which often simply arranges small portions of insanity for funsies, wanting
nothing to do with Yankovic’s real career arc.
Madonna soon enters “Weird,” putting Al on a path of alcoholism and arrogance,
transforming him into a Jim Morrison-like figure, and there’s an action element
when the Material Girl is kidnapped by Escobar’s goons. The feature is 108
minutes long, and one can feel the second half struggling to sustain the movie’s
early energy, with a few ideas and subplots in need of pruning. Still, laughs
are relatively consistent, and Radcliffe gives his all to the part, trying to be
the most animated “Weird Al” Yankovic possible, never turning down a chance to
embrace the excess and amplification of this version of Al. Of course, it’s all
nonsense, but “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” offers some inspired madness and it
answers a question plaguing pop culture for the last 40 years: what came first,
“Eat It” or “Beat It”? The answer may surprise you.