Review: Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY (2022)
Daniel Radcliffe: 'Weird Al' Yankovic
Evan Rachel Wood: Madonna
Rainn Wilson: Dr. Demento
Julianne Nicholson: Mary
Toby Huss: Nick
Arturo Castro: Pablo Escobar
Written by: 'Weird Al' Yankovic and Eric Appel
Directed by: Eric Appel
Parody works when the whole cast commits to the joke and plays it as straight as possible while swinging for the fences. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story should be mentioned among the great film parodies in cinema. The comedy establishes itself from the moment Diedrich Bader's "Grizzled Narrator" first speaks and builds momentum into a glorious absurdist work that includes an action set piece involving Salvador Dali, a pool party that includes Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, and Wolfman Jack, and a complete rewriting of the musical history of the early '80s. Throw in an audacious ending that spoofs both A Star Is Born and Carrie and you have one of the funniest movies I've seen in a long time, at least since What We Do in the Shadows.
In some ways, only 'Weird Al' Yankovic could've made this movie. A gifted satirist who has never taken himself seriously, Yankovic got his start writing parodies of songs like "My Sharona," "Another One Bites the Dust," and "I Love Rocky Road." He hit the big time commercially with "Eat It," a parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." The movie focuses primarily on these events in Yankovic's career but turns them all completely inside out by lampooning his career image and personality while mixing in a torrid affair with Madonna. The scenes depicting his inspiration for "My Bologna" is topped only by his first live performance of "I Love Rocky Road" at the toughest roadhouse imaginable.
This is, of course, all complete fabrication and as silly as you think it is going to be. It works because Daniel Radcliffe commits so fully to the tone and style, playing it in a deadpan seriousness that perfectly skewers Oscar-bait biopics. His meltdown in a restaurant upon hearing Michael Jackson recorded "Beat It" to parody "Eat It" (told you it rewrites history) is perfect. He is so good in this, but when Evan Rachel Wood shows up as Madonna and the whole film explodes into the kind of surreal fever dream that Dali himself would surely applaud. Wood dives into it with a relish equaling Radcliffe's and their comic chemistry never wavers.
Perhaps I'm waxing a little rhapsodic here, but I really loved this movie. It's not perfect. A couple of moments drag but not enough to derail the momentum. I kind of hoped more of 'Weird Al's' original tunes because those really show off his genius. That this movie isn't in theaters is a crying shame. It should be experienced with a crowd. These are minor qualms because the movie works on every level, most of all in the way it captures what makes 'Weird Al' Yankovic a special comedic voice. It's not just because he parodies an established work. Rather, he does it with layers of word play and a complete commitment to stylistic choices. "Eat It" isn't funny because it's about food, although the lyrics are clever and goofy. It's funny because he is spoofing the entire Michael Jackson performance with reckless abandon. This movie does that and then some and, like the best of 'Weird Al' it's not afraid to mix flourishes of dark comedy with the silly stuff.
I haven't even mentioned the supporting work, especially by Julianne Nicholson and Toby Huss as Al's parents. His mother is, of course, supporting and loving and his father is domineering and doesn't condone his son's perverse way of altering a song's established lyrics. "What you're doing is confusing and evil!" he exclaims when a young Al performs "Amazing Grapes" at the dinner table. There is a running gag about dad's work at an enigmatic factory that never gets old. Rainn Wilson co-stars as Dr. Demento, who discovers Al at the aforementioned roadhouse, and helps catapult him to stardom. Then, Madonna shows up and ruins everything.
Look, things have kind of sucked the last few years. The whole world feels like it is spinning out of control and certainly here in America there is so much dread and uneasiness. Weird was very much a movie I personally needed. The laughter was cathartic. Sure, it is silly. It has to be. But it is silly in that way the work of Mel Brooks or the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker is. Smart, layered, and, in their own way, completely serious.
Note: This movie is available exclusively on the Roku Channel. If you don't have a Roku device, you can go to their website. This movie is free with commercials.