Sunday, January 1, 2023

Dare to be Stupid

Film: Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Format: Streaming video from The Roku Channel on basement television

I’ve been looking forward to Weird: The Al Yankovic Story since I heard that Daniel Radcliffe was going to play the title role. Radcliffe is having the best career possible; he’s doing only what he wants because he doesn’t need the money. It’s allowed him to just have fun with the movies and shows he’s doing. Weird is tremendous evidence of this, because this movie is not based in reality and doesn’t pretend to be.

This is, ostensibly, the story of Weird Al Yankovic, song parody master. There are minor elements of this movie that are based on Yankovic’s actual life (he got his accordion from a door-to-door salesman, for instance), but none of this is accurate. Instead, this is a story of tropes and cliches dialed up to 11 and made ridiculous. According to this film, Yankovic was repressed by his father, who wanted young Al to come work in the factory with him—a factory where no one knows what the actual product is.

Al (played initially by Richard Aaron Anderson, then David Bloom, and then by Daniel Radcliffe) ends up with a trio of roommates (Spencer Treat Clark, Jack Lancaster, and Tommy O’Brien) who are incredibly supportive of his desire to write other words for songs that other people have written. Eventually, the magic happens and Al is inspired to write “My Bologna,” which launches his career. His roommates eventually become his band. A whirlwind of fame follows, with Al becoming ridiculously popular and famous, mentored by Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson).

The movie also posits that, tired of parodies, Al starts writing original music like “Eat It,” which eventually gets parodied (in this movie) by Michael Jackson. This begin the downward spiral of Al, who gets mixed up with Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), who is using him for her own career progression. Drugs, alcohol, dissolution, and a reconnection with his father, a run-in with Pablo Escobar (Arturo Castro), and a new lease on his career, as well as a surprise and shocking ending.

The entire point of Weird is that it makes almost no reference to the actual life of Al Yankovic, and that’s the point. This isn’t supposed to be seen as anything like the real life of Yankovic, whose actual parents were supportive of his career choice. Virtually none of this is true, and all of it is designed to be very much like a stereotypical film of this type. All of the tropes are here, and intensified to the point of ridiculousness, because making this stupid and ridiculous is exactly the point.

This is also a movie that essentially acts as hide-and-seek for famous cameos. There are a bunch of famous people who show up here for a single scene or a couple of lines. Some of these are easy to spot; others less so. The Dr. Demento pool party is a treasure trove of cameos, including a few that are absolutely ridiculous (like Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol).

I had high expectations for Weird; I had heard a great deal about it, virtually all of it not merely positive but effusive. And it’s worth it. What makes this all work is that Weird is not merely funny, but it’s also clever. This is the way parody should be done—it’s essentially the movie equivalent of an Al Yankovic parody song. It’s absolutely self-aware and plays for both the obvious joke and some subtle digs as well. And, importantly, it doesn’t go for nothing but cheap pop culture references that won’t be funny in a year.

Honestly, if I have a complaint, it’s that The Roku Channel made the ridiculous decision not to run this in theaters to make it Oscar-eligible. To be fair, it would have its best choice in the Original Song category, but the fact that it’s not eligible is sad. While I think an argument could be made for Daniel Radcliffe, he’d be a longshot at best for this sort of niche comedy.

Weird is exactly what it should be. It’s not just funny, but it’s the right kind of funny to make the whole thing work. It’s also the sort of movie that is funnier the more you know about Weird Al Yankovic and his career, but is still funny even if you know nothing.

Why to watch Weird: The Al Yankovic Story: This is how you do a biopic.
Why not to watch: You’re not willing to allow this to be as silly as it can be.


  1. I miss the chance to see this last year though I do hope to do it as it is a shame that Roku chose to not release it in theaters for Oscar consideration. Still, I am eager to see ERW as Madonna as I heard she fucking killed it.

    1. This is, bluntly, one of the best-cast films I've seen in a very long time. She's great, but Rainn Wilson as Dr. Demento is picture perfect.

  2. I thought this was so fun. The teen polka party thing was my favorite bit.

    1. I found it very hard to pick a favorite bit from this--there's a lot here to love.