'Weird: The Al Yankovic Story' review: Daniel Radcliffe leads outrageously silly comedy
Courtesy of The Roku Channel
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” finally answers the question: What does a “biopic” about the world’s most notorious comedic singer look like? The answer may surprise you, because it’s not really a biopic, so much it’s an enigma. It’s revisionist history at its apex and allows Weird Al (along with the “Funny or Die” production crew) to create his own, literal version of “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” with the humor towing the line between daft and brilliant. Take for example, a scene where a young Alfred Matthew Yankovic busts out his accordion and harmonica at a Frat-led Polka party. Something tells me that the exchange didn’t end with the entire party singing along like it was a sold-out rock concert nor was it probably a Polka party.
Another scene exaggerates the relationship Al had with Madonna. According to “Weird,” the two couldn’t keep their hands off each other and the “Like a Virgin” singer wound up kidnapped by Pablo Escobar (more on that later). Like the artist himself, “Weird” is a parody of Al Yankovic’s life with obvious creative liberties and fictional elements woven into the screenplay. What would you expect from a movie based on an artist who made a career out of spoofing the biggest singers and hottest songs? But there’s also an underlying sweetness throughout “Weird” that creeps up on you where, amid all the jumbled, controlled, chaos, you do get a sense for how Alfred Yankovic became the sensation he is today: by being himself and being funny doing it.
“Weird” essentially plays like an extended, slightly overwrought Funny or Die sketch, but director Eric Appel and lead star Daniel Radcliffe never lose sight of the film's go-for-broke-attitude. Radcliffe, in his curly-haired wig, bulky glasses, and mustache, is the living embodiment of the iconic singer. It’s also one of the only instances in modern-day pop culture history where everyone collectively signed-off on the casting. After watching the film and witnessing the creative choices Radcliffe makes with such a wacky setting, I can confidently say it’s the perfect marriage of star and script.
Keeping with its themes, “Weird” begins as all biopics do: centered on a rough childhood. Al’s nurturing mother (Julianne Nicholson) and strict father (Toby Huss) can’t understand their son’s obsession with offbeat tracks and bizarre tunes. If it were up to his father, Al would’ve been pulled from school and worked at “The Factory” (what do they do at “The Factory?” Nobody knows, and it’s one the films signature running gags). Instead, Al goes off to college and finds his calling after laying eyes on processed lunch meat. When “My Sharona” becomes “My Bologna,” he enjoys immediate success, charting the Billboard Top 100 in record time.
From there, things move fairly quickly and “Weird” becomes an abridged, speedy, version of the singer’s livelihood (not that it was ever concerned with depicting an honest portrayal). Soon, Al has everything he could possibly want, though his aspirations for creating “original” music (in this alternate reality, “Eat It” came before “Beat It”) becomes a focal point. But the arrival of Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) throws a wrench in his plans as the singer, played with a sociopathic scowl by Wood, seeks the bump and extra notoriety that comes whenever Al spoofs a song. Their relationship takes several, let’s say, interesting turns, with the bloody jungle rumble with Escobar (played by Arturo Castro) taking top honors.
The script by Appel and the real Yankovic, who co-stars as a bumbling record executive scoffing at Al’s ambitions, allows for plenty of cameos ala Conan O’Brian, Jack Black, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and others as they play various characters like Pee Wee Herman, Andy Warhol, ER doctors, and Tiny Tim, but Radcliffe has to carry the movie’s wild eccentricity; and he does in stride, perfectly leaning into the film’s absurdist style, unafraid of where it’ll take him. It cements a banner year, comedically, for the “Harry Potter” alum following a memorable turn playing the baddie in “The Lost City.”
He’s reason enough to give “Weird” a shot, but the movie’s delightfully frantic aurora is a rare breed and even though the hilarious depictions of the singer’s career trajectory with songs “Amish Paradise,” “Another One Rides the Bus,” and “Like a Surgeon,” are embellished, there’s something poetic about the actual Yankovic taking control of his story and telling the world it’s okay to be different.
WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY streams on The Roku Channel Friday, November 4th.