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Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Review: A Nerd, A Dream, And Bologna

  • Cleverly spoofs biopics
  • Sometimes outrageously funny and weird
  • Daniel Radcliffe's good, Evan Rachel Wood's great
  • Roku Channel production values
  • Strains for feature length

Some movies are hard to separate from the circumstances you see them in, and it seems safe to say that those attending the sold-out midnight premiere of "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival had a very different experience with Eric Appel's biopic parody than the vast majority of viewers who will have to stream it on the Roku Channel. You'll probably laugh a lot watching the movie at home, but I don't know if you'll laugh as hard or as much as that packed crowd of Weird Al fans filling the Royal Alexandria Theatre.

As fun as it is with a crowd, however, "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" is still very much a movie made on the cheap for a streaming service not exactly known for its original movies. It's also very much a stretched-out version of the director's original Funny or Die video from 2010, with Daniel Radcliffe now replacing Aaron Paul in the title role, and at times it shows the strain of trying to drag that fake trailer's one (still very funny) joke out to an hour and 48 minutes. Perhaps the smaller screen and lowered expectations of the Roku release will ultimately balance out the missed opportunity to see it with an excited crowd for most audiences.

While the experiences of the festival crowd and the much wider streaming audience will differ, either way, "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" proves a likable and funny spoof of the musical biopic genre even if aspects of it could have been improved.

Weird mercilessly spoofs every music biopic cliche

"Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" gets off to a strong start as a pitch-perfect parody of the musical biopic genre. A grizzled older Al (voiced by Diedrich Bader in full Batman mode) narrates as Al in his prime (Daniel Radcliffe) is on the verge of death from a drug overdose (the doctor who revives him is the first of one of many surprise celebrity cameos). From this in media res opening, the film rewinds back to Al's childhood, which is basically the same as young Elton John's from "Rocketman" but with polka, accordions, and Dr. Demento novelty comedy. He has the kind mother (Julianne Nicholson) who nonetheless wants him to repress part of himself, a strict toxic-masculine father (Toby Huss) who works at "the factory," and the gift to propel him into music history.

As an adult, Al moves out from his house and finds a group of friends and future bandmates who tell him he can do anything he wants — which means finally being able to replace the words in pre-existing songs with other words. The genesis of Al's first hit parody, "My Bologna," is a hilarious spoof of many "artistic inspiration" scenes from other musician movies. If it's somewhat disappointing that the musically-talented Radcliffe doesn't actually get to sing himself, him obviously lip-syncing to the real Mr. Yankovic's recording is funny both for its cheesiness and for parodying other lip-sync performances like Rami Malek in "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Weird Al's meteoric rise to stardom is punctuated by a few different musical numbers. The funniest of these takes place at a pool party at the house of Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), packed with icons of '70s and '80s music, camp, and general "weirdness" played by even more comedic celebrities. Challenged to come up with a parody on the spot, specifically Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," Al and his band come up with "Another One Rides the Bus." Soon everyone is joining in with dancing sound effects — needless to say, the midnight movie crowd went wild for Pee-Wee Herman doing his "Tequila" moves and Divine on the whoopie cushion.

Evan Rachel Wood carries the weaker middle act

The midsection of "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story," where Al experiences the classic rock star cycle of mind-melting wealth, bad relationships, and self-destructive decision-making, continues the arc of the genre parody, but is also where the film starts to strain itself and get a bit too repetitive for huge laughs. What carries this section of the movie is Evan Rachel Wood's performance as Madonna. Radcliffe is good and committed to this bizarro version of Weird Al, but Wood is even funnier, depicting the megastar as a figure of pure derangement who makes a perfectly awful enabler for Al's swelling ego.

This film's obvious predecessor in satirizing music biopics is "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," the 2007 Jake Kasdan film starring John C. Reilly as an all-purpose Boomer musical icon. Coming in the wake of such Oscar-bait hits as "Ray" and "Walk the Line," the brilliance of "Walk Hard" was that it was directed so well that it often looked and sounded like the genuine article of what it was spoofing, just with a lot more dirty jokes and absurdity. "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" isn't at that level of filmmaking quality, and it doesn't even try to be. The cheapness of the production works in some places with Weird Al's own campy charm (of course the wigs have to be terrible!), but there is still something to be said for technical skill enhancing parodies — after all, Weird Al and his band are genuinely great at playing the songs they rewrite with food puns.

Though it sags a bit in the middle, "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" comes together in the end with a truly unexpected finale. Shifts into different genres allow for weirder gags and more amusing cameos, and this fictional Al's redemption arc works as righteous mockery of the myth that creative geniuses have to jerks. Al Yankovic, who co-wrote the film's screenplay, also graces us with a hilarious original song over the ending credits. His own lyrics reassure us his song is technically Oscar-eligible, which may just be another comedic lie in a film filled with blatant falsehoods but would make a delightful nominee if true. Don't expect the film to be up for awards in any other categories, but the cult of Weird Al will have a great time.