Review: Parody Songs and Plenty of Heart, Laughs (and Cameos) in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

It should come as a surprise to no one that when approaching his own biopic, song-parody performer “Weird” Al Yankovic would be mostly incapable of telling his story seriously. In fact, the film takes great pains to parody other music biopics and their many tropes about the rise and fall of an artist, despite the fact that Yankovic is one of the music industry’s least controversial figures. Still, when director Eric Appel created a fake trailer for a Weird Al biopic called Weird in 2013, he sparked a level of interest in both fans and Yankovic himself, who eventually wrote the feature film with Appel (a veteran music video and sitcom director).

With very little basis in reality but an emphasis on some truly outrageous comedy, the feature version of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story tells the story of a young boy obsessed with the accordion and a desire to rewrite the lyrics of popular songs, both of which are discouraged by his parents, played by Toby Huss and Julianne Nicholson (strangely enough, both of whom play major supporting roles in the recent Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde). Dad even goes so far as to beat the tar out of a door-to-door salesman offering accordions.

As an adult, Al (played straight by Daniel Radcliffe) gets the song parody idea, and nothing will ever be the same again, especially after being discovered by syndicated radio host Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), who introduces Al to all of the great pop-culture icons of the time, including fellow musicians like Bowie, Elton John, Alice Cooper, even Tiny Tim, but also folks like Divine, Elvira, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Pee Wee Herman, but most importantly, the iconic rock DJ Wolfman Jack (Jack Black), who challenges Al to make up a parody song on the spot. Now of course, none of this happened in real life, but the scene (clearly mimicking the pool sequence in Boogie Nights in which Dirk is introduced to the local porn community) is so significant to the faux rise of Weird Al.

Not long after being introduced as the second coming of songwriting, Al meets early-in-her-career Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), who is convinced that if she can get one of her songs parodied by Yankovic, her album sales would skyrocket (known as the Yankovic Bump). The two start dating, and Al begins drinking in excess, throwing off his career and destroying relationships with his friends, bandmates, and even the fragile bond he has with his parents (just a reminder, all of this is bullshit, but Wood is so good as Madonna and Radcliffe is so earnest and self-destructive, you can’t help but be impressed and laugh).

The film is fully loaded with cameos from the likes of Patton Oswalt, Will Forte, Conan O’Brian, Quinta Brunson, Arturo Castro, and David Dastmalchian, but most of these appearances are pure gold. Admittedly, the film takes a less humorous turn in the third act when Al goes to rescue Madonna from Pablo Escobar and his Medellin drug cartel (who only kidnapped her to get Al to come play his birthday party; he’s actually a huge fan), things start to drag like a parody song that goes longer than five minutes. A running gag about Yankovic’s breakthrough hit “Eat It” actually being an original song (Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was the parody, according to Weird) is hilariously called back throughout the movie, and it always caught me off guard because Al goes into such a rage by the end of the film any time anyone mentions Jackson’s song.

There are nuggets of truth sprinkled within Weird, but largely the film is meant to be one big joke, poking fun at works like The Doors and Walk the Line. I believe a case can be made that Weird is even paying tribute to the crowned champion of parody movies, Walk Hard, doing so quite beautifully. Some of the jokes are too broad, and Yankovic (who shows up as the head of the record company that eventually hires him) isn’t much of an actor, but most everyone knows exactly the movie they’re making, and they play their roles to perfection. This is a fun little movie with a lot of spirit and laughs.

The film is available exclusively on The Roku Channel, whatever that is.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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