This review originally ran September 9, 2022, in conjunction with the film’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Rock ‘n’ roll biopics are always a weird, messy beast, where the question isn’t whether the story on screen differs from what really happened, but by how much it differs. “Bohemian Rhapsody” purported to be a true story but changed a lot, “Rocketman” set out to be true not in a literal sense but only in an emotional one (and was all the better for making its fakery transparent), and “Elvis” was a freewheeling mixture of semi-reality and extravagant fantasy.
So if it’s the case that regular rock biopics are weird, what of one whose title begins with the word weird? It certainly doesn’t figure to be one for the nitpickers (which at times have definitely included me) who point out that a song is in the wrong place chronologically or that this character is a composite or that so-and-so never did such-and-such.
Questions like that don’t mean a damn thing when it comes to “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” a churning and very entertaining load of poppycock that makes not the slightest pretense of being an accurate retelling of the story of everybody’s favorite song parodist, Weird Al Yankovic.
In fact, the whole point is that it isn’t accurate, that it’s a whacked-out alternate reality in which young Al got his first accordion after his father beat a door-to-door accordion salesman to a bloody pulp, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was a parody of Weird Al’s “Eat It” and Madonna (played by Evan Rachel Wood with gum-snapping zest) was both Al’s girlfriend and a murderous psychopath.
The film, directed by Eric Appel, produced by Funny or Die and distributed by Roku, takes Weird Al’s approach to music – take a well-known song and change the words to make them funnier – and applies it to the rock biopic. Since Yankovic co-wrote the film with Appel, it should hardly come as a surprise that it takes all the hoary rock-bio tropes, makes fun of them, sets them to a polka beat and populates the resulting ridiculousness with enough cameos and Easter eggs to sate the theater full of fanatics who came to the Royal Alexandra Theatre at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday at midnight.
“Weird” was pretty much the ideal film to open TIFF’s Midnight Madness section, and it probably debuted to the most enthusiastic audience it will ever have. This really is a movie to see in a room full of people who know all the words to “I Love Rocky Road.” It’s unlikely to work as well at home, where the hit-or-miss nature of the humor will be more apparent — unless you’re one of those people who knows the words to “Rocky Road” and at least a dozen other songs, or unless you want to use freeze-frame and rewind to identify every single famous person in a small, silly role. (Good luck.)
Appel got the job of directing “Weird” because he did a parody trailer advertising a movie called “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” more than a decade ago. Back then, Aaron Paul was the star of the nonexistent film, but when it came time to make the real movie Appel and Yankovic (also one of the producers) went with Daniel Radcliffe, who in their twisted logic probably makes more sense because he even looks less like Weird Al than Paul did.
(For one thing, he’s much shorter, something I already knew but can now absolutely vouch for after sitting two rows directly behind Mr. Yankovic and peering around his head at the premiere. Plus Radcliffe really sells the movie’s totally anachronistic “Harry Potter” joke.)
Because Weird Al’s life is distorted, fabricated and pumped up for the sake of comedy, it’d be silly to give much in the way of story details here; every plot point is essentially a punchline. Suffice it to say that the pool party at Dr. Demento’s house is a deliciously idiotic overdose of a certain kind of late ’70s-early ’80s pop culture, that it’s the bloodiest rock movie ever and that if you’ve ever dreamed of watching Daniel Radcliffe without his shirt for most of a movie, this is for you.
Does it have moments of hilarity? Sure does. Does it run out of steam at times? Hell, yes. Is Appel a workmanlike director who mostly stays out of the way and lets his cast deliver the laughs? Yep, though he does try to get fancy a few times, with mixed results.
Over the end credits, the real Weird Al drops a new song that explains how everything you just saw is completely true, and then ends with the line, “This song is technically eligible for Oscar consideration.” One has to imagine that’ll be in the category of Best Original Song by a Famous Accordion Player in an Extremely Specific Genre of Music.
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” premieres globally on The Roku Channel Nov. 4.