TIFF Review: “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

Toronto International Film Festival 2022 Midnight Madness World Premiere

Weird Al Yankovic is no typical music artist. The shaggy-haired, Hawaiian shirt connoisseur musician/comedian built a career out of a niche area of the industry: parodies of existing songs and polka covers. So it shouldn’t be surprising that a movie about his life would be no typical biopic. And yet, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” turns out to have numerous twists and tricks up its sleeve— or rather, in its accordion—as director Eric Appel, who co-wrote the screenplay with Weird Al himself, deconstructs genre tropes and blows up all these larger-than-life personalities into even more extreme versions of themselves. It’s the only appropriate way to tell the life story of the master of parody songs: with a parody.

Daniel Radcliffe in “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”; image courtesy TIFF

Daniel Radcliffe, who has made plenty of interesting choices in his career in recent years and has proved himself more than adept at inhabiting gonzo characters, gives it his all in the title role, enthusiastically tackling every comedic moment and performing a bevy of Al’s songs—accordion in hand— with gusto. “Weird” traces Al’s origins from childhood to superstardom, from his dream to play music sending his temperamental father—who just wants his son to come work with him at “the factory”—into overdrive, to alcohol and his destructive relationship with pop star Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood, going for broke with her impression of the icon). Are some of those things accurate to Weird Al’s real life? Yes. Is this movie still mostly lies? Also yes, but to dive into much further detail would spoil the fun. Suffice it to say that the film’s structure—immediately establishing its silly tone and ramping up the absurdity over the course of the narrative— works in its favor. It won’t be to every viewer’s taste, but once you’re on board, it’s hard not to delight in every turn it takes, from wild LSD trips to action movie heroics to a hysterical Hollywood pool party that takes a page from “Boogie Nights.”

It’s particularly fun to watch the way “Weird” pokes fun not just at its subject, but at the music biopic itself. There are scenes that begin with a familiar premise, like the origin of song twisted for more drama effect. The creation of his first single, “My Bologna” (set to the tune of The Knack’s “My Sharona”), begins with the words coming to Al when making a sandwich, original song blaring on the radio, the record sticking so that the phrase “My Sharona” repeats in his head over and over until he’s got it. And it devolves into Al and his roommates/future band mates beating each other up in their enthusiasm. It’s just one of the film’s humorous takes on a music biopic cliche.

Quinta Brunson as Oprah Winfrey and Daniel Radcliffe as Weird Al Yankovic in “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”; image courtesy TIFF

It’s a credit to the strength of Appel and Yankovic’s snappy script that the film’s break-neck pace never really gets tired, although while Yankovic obviously plenty of input in the winking telling of his own story, there’s some questions marks surrounding the movie’s portrayal of Madonna, casting her as a shallow, fame-chasing celebrity who’s responsible for Yankovic’s downward spiral (when asked during the Q&A after the film’s premiere whether or not she had seen it, Yankovic jokingly responded that he didn’t think so). At the same time, it’s so outrageous so as to leave little doubt that it’s all in good fun (and hopefully the real Madonna will think so too).

Despite some iffy subject matter, “Weird” is a wild ride that is accessible to those who are less familiar with Yankovic and a joy for those who are. Will we ever truly know the real Weird Al? One thing is clear: no biopic will never be the same after this.

“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” will screen exclusively on The Roku Channel beginning November 4. Runtime: 108 minutes.

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