Weird: The Al Yankovic Story begins, and it quickly becomes apparent that we are in for a pretty crazy adventure. The rock’n’roll revolution doesn’t mean anything in the other reality of the movie. Instead, polka music rules mid-century American radio, and juvenile offenders exchange their leather coats for lederhosen. Meanwhile, a small kid called Alfred Yankovic hides miniature Hawaiian-print shirts beneath his mattress, which his mother discovers horrified, as if she were finding a bag of dirt marijuana. Alfred Yankovic also has a secret love for accordions.
The movie, which Yankovic co-wrote, is brilliant because it adheres to the formula that has made him a silly institution for the past forty years. It is a satire of a music biography in the vein of his discography and movies like Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. However, what makes it particularly amusing is that, conceptually, it isn’t much more ridiculous than most of the ostensibly serious entries in the category. The humble beginning, the ecstatic ascension, the promethean fall from grace, and the unavoidable redemption are all present. Weird differs from other recent extravagant rock biopics like Elvis or Bohemian Rhapsody in that it is aware of its own humour.
In the beginning, Yankovic’s on-screen father terrorises his son over dinner by telling him stories about “the factory” and its fearsome thresher: You see, it keeps killing people, and young Al dreads his inescapable fate of working there. (This is undoubtedly a tribute to the Oscar-winning film Walk the Line, which tells the story of Johnny Cash, whose elder brother perished in a horrific table saw accident when they were young.) When Al the teen gets caught playing the accordion, his father extols the virtues of perseverance. Al exclaims, “I don’t even know what you create at the factory,” and then his father angrily destroys the wheezing device.
Actually, Yankovic’s father worked at a factory, but he was also adamantly in favour of his son (and his accordion playing). The artist previously recalled that his father “always emphasised that I should do whatever made me happy because that’s the secret to success” when he was a child. Finding the bits of reality within the massive mythology is one of the things that makes watching Weird so entertaining.
By the time Daniel Radcliffe’s portrayal of adult Al, who is attempting to break into the Los Angeles music scene while playing his accordion, is introduced to us, the musician is auditioning for punk bands and yearning to write his own lyrics—to other people’s songs. He’s cooking a bologna sandwich when he hears “My Sharona” by the Knack on the radio. Yankovic is quickly identified by eccentric DJ Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), who mentors the blossoming prodigy. In a funny parody of the pool party scene in Boogie Nights, when we follow Al as he meets the who’s who of eccentric personalities like Andy Warhol (Conan O’Brien) and Wolfman Jack, Demento invites Yankovic to an exclusive fete at his house (Jack Black).
Finding the several cameos in Weird is one of its most enjoyable aspects. Patton Oswalt, Will Forte, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the real-life Yankovic all make appearances, and Evan Rachel Wood portrays the movie’s supervillain, Madonna, as a gum-chewing femme fatale. Yankovic is caught up in a tumultuous, alcohol-fueled affair with the eponymous pop queen, but all she really wants is that cute Yankovic Bump—a parody of one of her songs that will entice listeners to buy the original tune. She ultimately persuades Yankovic to mimic “Like a Virgin” with “Like a Surgeon,” a song that reached the Top 50 IRL in 1985, through devious tactics. (In the movie, he gets the idea for the song when suddenly waking up in the emergency room following a DUI crash, which, of course, never actually occurred.)
This “downward spiral” scene is among the most bizarre and entertaining parts of the film, primarily due to how fantastical it is. Al in real life is a model citizen who has never used drugs and has been a vegan for many years. (This may explain his ability to perform lengthy tours in his 60s and how he appears to be ageing backwards.) Yankovic’s progressively insane bad-boy actions follow a high satirical pattern. Watch Radcliffe channelling his inner Jim Morrison as he berates his sizable crowd while sporting a leather jacket, going naked, and downing a bottle of whiskey. Try not to laugh when Al, in a megalomaniacal rage, sneers at his bandmates: “You’re all just a bunch of normals! I’m the strange one!
Yankovic is given LSD in a previous scenario that parodies a creative breakthrough, and he then sets out on a psychedelic trip. He emerges from an egg shell, naked once more, smeared in goo, and performing the electric guitar solo from his 1984 smash song “Eat It.” In the Weird universe, “Eat It” was entirely written by Yankovic, and it acts as the epiphany that inspires him to follow his destiny and produce solely original songs going forward. Regrettably, a performer by the name of Michael Jackson mimics Yankovic’s work with something called “Beat It.” These jokes are everywhere in weird. Are they foolish? On-the-nose? Yes. However, it is not how we would like our “Weird Al.”