For over 40 years, “Weird Al” Yankovic has reigned as the world’s most popular comedy musician. Given the unserious nature of Yankovic’s songs, a movie about his life was never going to be straightforward. Taking inspiration from a 2013 Funny or Die video of the same name, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story plays out as – what else? – a parody of music biopics, which tend to have many of the same beats, such as a rough childhood, music providing a salvation, issues with drugs and/or alcohol, and, ultimately, redemption.
And so, hilariously, the young Al yearns to play the accordion and make up fake lyrics to real songs, only to be stymied by his well-meaning mom, Mary (Julianne Nicholson), and angry and violent dad, Nick (Toby Huss). After hearing things like “We agree that you should stop being yourself and doing the things you love,” he rebels by going to … a teenage polka party. (Unintentionally funny is that Nicholson recently played Marilyn Monroe’s mom in Blonde, a 1-2 punch that’s hard to beat.)
When Al (now played by Daniel Radcliffe) finally gets out of the house, he’s able to spread his wings and make the weird music he wants, overcoming the skepticism of record executives like Tony Scotti (played by Yankovic) with the help of mentor Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson). When Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) becomes his girlfriend to, in part, get the sweet bump that one of his parody songs can provide, it starts in motion a series of events too ridiculous to be true.
Directed by Eric Appel (who also made the short film) and written by Appel and Yankovic, the film can essentially be split in two. The first half is the more successful part, as the pure comedy of his parents' overreactions to his music tastes, the random ways in which he draws inspiration for songs like “My Bologna,” and other out-of-nowhere things never fail to draw a laugh.
Not content to play out the whole movie that way, the filmmakers make the second half into something … weird. Without spoiling anything, it radically shifts the perspective of Weird Al as both a musician and a person, a change that, while still objectively funny, takes on a much different tone. It also features less of his music, a decision that takes some of the early fun out of the film.
The film features a bevy of celebrity cameos, like Lin-Manuel Miranda as a surgeon, Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol, and Quinta Brunson as Oprah Winfrey, as well as a pool party scene featuring a slew of ‘80s icons like Devo, John Denver, Pee Wee Herman, Tiny Tim, Gallagher, Divine, and Elvira. You never know who’s going to pop up next, giving the film an extra dose of enjoyment in addition to the story.
Radcliffe, though much shorter than the actual Weird Al (likely a joke in and of itself), is a great fit for the role, bringing the type of energy it deserves. Even when lip-synching (the voice when singing is definitely the real Weird Al), he’s all-in on the performance. Wood is also great, delivering a depiction of Madonna that’s even more out-there than the real-life version.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story ultimately hits more highs than lows thanks to the funny “origin” stories around songs like “Eat It,” “Another One Rides the Bus,” and “Like a Surgeon.” You can give the filmmakers credit for trying something different, but like any popular musician, things are better when they play the hits.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is now streaming on The Roku Channel.