Weird: The Al Yankovic Story belongs in that movie-parody subgenre — the sincere spoof — that’s been frustrating me ever since members of the MTV sketch show The State began making comedies just like it. (A State alum actually makes a brief-but-brutal cameo in Weird.) Oh yeah, they’re over-the-top madhouse movies, complete with absurd dialogue and even more ridiculous sequences. But it’s done in an oddly earnest manner, with the filmmakers telling a sympathetic story and filling it with cute chaos that makes the whole thing offbeat — in every sense of the world.
Fans of the beloved comedy-pop icon “Weird” Al Yankovic may already know that he did a very funny mockumentary about his life way back in the ‘80s for Showtime. But since we live in the age of the rock ‘n roll biopic, where pop legends get their stories told cinematically — in the most grandiose, self-congratulatory way possible — you know Yankovic had to jump all over this.
Practically acting like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story didn’t already roast these films all to hell 15 years ago, Weird also presents a story of a pop legend who grew up with a father (played here by Toby Huss) who strongly disapproved of his son’s musical aspirations. (BTW, Julianne Nicholson plays Weird Al’s mom, making this the second movie in mere weeks — this is the other one — where she plays the mother of a tormented celebrity in a flagrantly questionable biopic.)
As young Al grows up to be adult Al (played by Daniel Radcliffe, rocking the glasses, Hawaiian shirts, and perm with pride), the rise to fame comes fast and fallaciously. As he becomes a star making parody versions of hit songs (with vocals supplied by Yankovic, who also plays one of the record moguls who sign him), it doesn’t take long for the sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll lifestyle to send him through that eventual, downward spiral. Most of this is courtesy of Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), who this movie claims was Yankovic’s manipulative girlfriend.
That’s just one of the straight-up lies Weird dispenses with deadpan glee. Among the other tall tales: “Eat It” was an actually an original work and it was Michael Jackson who ripped Yankovic off with “Beat It;” “Another One Rides the Bus” was created on the spot when Yankovic was challenged by Wolfman Jack (played by a very tenacious celeb) at a star-studded pool party; and Yankovic briefly becomes a skilled assassin, going toe-to-toe with his biggest fan: Pablo Escobar (Arturo Castro).
Yankovic, along with co-writer/director Epic Appel (who did a fake-movie trailer test run for Funny or Die —which also produced this — years ago) crafts a heavily untrue story that doesn’t wink at the audience so much as it just assumes viewers will already understand this is bullshit. They unabashedly rip off whole scenes from The Doors, Boogie Nights, and, believe it or not, that Steven Soderbergh B-movie Haywire. But they do it in a rhythmically off-kilter fashion. They have scenes of sheer lunacy going on for far too long, buttoning it with a sentimental moment near the end to show how, even though this is all shits-and-giggles, it’s done from the heart. Cameos from fellow, famous comedy weirdos briefly provide the balls-to-the-wall nuttiness Weird lacks.
After seeing him come with the cutesy nonsense of Weird, I wish Yankovic would’ve given with the same zero-fucks gusto he gave to UHF, that 1989 TV satire I personally believe is one of the most underappreciated comedies of the ‘80s. I mean, if he’s gonna shoot fish in a barrel and give us another rock-star biopic parody with Weird, the least he could’ve done was come with the chopper and really do some damage.
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is streaming Friday on the Roku Channel.