In 2010, Eric Appel produced a fake movie trailer called Weird: The Al Yankovic Story for the website Funny or Die. This trailer is just over two minutes long, and features Aaron Paul as an overly dramatic Yankovic struggling with his rise to fame. It parodies the type of trailers we seem to see around awards season for prestige dramas: emotional swelling music, large performances, jam-packed with sentimentality and self-seriousness. This works well as a web sketch; the joke is front and centre, and you’re in and out within a couple of minutes.
When it was announced that Appel would be producing a feature film based on this premise, I had reservations: the least self-serious musician in the world getting the serious cinematic treatment, solely based on a two-minute sketch idea? And, sadly, for the most part, I was right to be concerned. This Roku Original is a pleasant and harmless parody of parodies; a toothless endeavour that knows exactly what it is and rarely steps out of its comfort zone, producing middling laughs but rarely anything more.
The best cinematic parodies both understand and have respect for the source material. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974) works so well because Brooks understands what draws people to those classic Universal horror movies. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) manages to parody nearly every corner of the music industry because it has a firm grasp and insight into its mechanics. Secondly, the best biopics have a deserved level of fantasy inspired by the central subject — think Ed Wood (1994), Rocketman (2019), or Man On The Moon (1999). Large personalities need large films to mirror the artist’s sensibilities and idiosyncrasies, and while this Weird Al movie plays with the notion of parody in a charming way, it could stand to be… weirder.
The film understands that it is poking fun at prestige dramas and the biographical films that have come before it. Typically formulaic narrative beats are present throughout, but are rarely subverted or explored further: the father that doesn’t believe in his son; an almost immediate rise to fame; the fallout with the band, and the time tested “you’ve changed man, the fame’s really gotten to you!” moment. The only interesting narrative twist that the movie takes is that Al transcends his parody roots, moving from playfully shifting The Knack’s My Sharona into My Bologna, Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust into Another One Rides the Bus, and becomes a self serious and proud misunderstood genius. His original composition, Eat It, becomes a smash hit, then we later find out that ‘that kid from the Jackson 5’ is parodying it, making a song about food into a song about fighting, and he has the audacity to call it Beat It. These offbeat choices are where the movie really shines. There is a short sequence where Al eats some LSD-laced guacamole and has a sinister hallucinatory experience that inspires him to write Eat It; it is visually interesting, narratively transitional, and… weird! Later, we are treated to a kitchen knife fight, as Al’s partner, Madonna, (okay, admittedly this story decision is indeed weird) is kidnapped by Pablo Escobar’s goons (oh, it got weirder), and Al himself has to go on a John Rambo style mission to rescue her. These moments where the filmmaker energetically pulls from different corners of genre cinema are the standout scenes. Just like Yancovic himself pulled from different styles and aesthetics of music in his work, this film could stand to branch out further and experiment, or double-down on its ideas and give them the screen time that they honestly deserve. The ideas present are fun but rarely fleshed out to meet their full comedic potential. With a tighter edit, and maybe a punch up here and there, this could have been great! I’ll always applaud films full of ideas but this film needs stronger connective tissue between those ideas.
Daniel Radcliffe provides an eccentric charm and boundless energy to his portrayal of Weird Al. If nothing else, this film is a testament to the strange and admirable career trajectory Radcliffe has had post-Harry Potter. If Robert Pattinson is the actor who shrugged off his Twilight past and became the world’s new cinema darling, then Radcliffe is the parody version. He’s a child star who fronted one of the most successful cinematic franchises of all time and proceeds to choose the stranger, often more adventurous, of cinematic projects like Horns (2013), Swiss Army Man (2016), or Guns Akimbo (2019). Sure, these recent projects might be of varying degrees of quality, but you can’t deny the fact that Radcliffe has adventurous and downright weird taste. This oddball Radcliffe-renaissance lands him in the heart of strange pop culture — with a curly wig, loud Hawaiian shirts, and a pair of black and white chequered Vans — as he mimes along to some of the silliest songs ever recorded. The supporting cast is a who’s who of off-kilter comedic personas. Rainn Wilson as Dr. Demento, Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna, Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol, Jack Black as Wolfman Jack and Patton Oswalt, Thomas Lennon, Will Forte — even You Can’t Call Me Al‘s own Jonah Ray. Most of these are merely brief cameos, which further emphasises the sketch comedy sensibilities that the film struggles to shake off.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story as a whole feels threadbare: there are jokes and ideas and bits and goofs aplenty, but to string them all together inside a movie pushing two hours only seems to stretch the material too thin. The overall tongue in cheek nature of the film is harmless, and even lively in parts, but it presents itself in a way that feels like a sketch that just keeps going and going but never really builds to anything. It’s a slice of fun, and an admirable comedic effort, that perhaps falls at a few hurdles, yet is still ultimately an engaging act of self parody from the songbird of a dorky generation.