Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

weird

Every so often a movie comes along that makes one feel like a real Grinch for finding fault with it. This time, that’d be Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like Weird Al, who capered around on the margins of ‘80s MTV pop with song parodies (and accompanying video parodies) of acts like Michael Jackson and Madonna. Weird Al’s takes on popular songs, gentler than Tom Lehrer and goofier than Mad magazine’s resident song parodist Frank Jacobs, were good-natured enough, and also skilled enough, that pop stars came to see a Weird Al parody as a sign they’d made it.

Weird, starring a game and enthusiastic Daniel Radcliffe as Al, makes no bones about being a complete farcical fabrication. That’s part of the joke, that Weird Al (who wrote the script with the movie’s director Eric Appel) can’t even tell his own story straight. The plot touches on the usual rise-and-fall tropes and clichés of rock-star biopics, which prevents it from being as wild and, well, weird as it could have been. In real life, Weird Al’s parents were supportive, with his father holding the exact reverse philosophy that the movie version of him does — that it’s important to do what makes you happy. So I’m not sure why Weird Al turns his dad into a forbidding, violent grouch who works in a factory and only later reveals his true colors. In 2004, Al’s parents both died in a tragic freak accident in their home, and we wouldn’t expect that to be covered in what’s supposed to be a comedy — but if you know that background, you might wonder why his parents are in the movie at all being portrayed as glum killjoys. Why not rub against the grain of the usual biopics and have the old man fantastically, unrealistically supportive of his son’s unusual goals?

Weird Al’s path eventually crosses that of Madonna (well-played by Evan Rachel Wood, who nails Madge’s insouciant narcissism), who wants him to parody her song and give her the “Yankovic Bump.” They become romantically involved, which is funny for about a minute, but not when it goes on for scene after scene and leads to a dead subplot involving Weird Al superfan Pablo Escobar. (Even if this premise hadn’t been addressed in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, it wouldn’t be all that funny here.) A good chunk of the film finds Weird Al behaving like a jerk twisted by the goblins of success, which we all know is Al’s self-deprecating goof on the actuality of his being a nice, normal nerd who’s only weird in his music. But it doesn’t make it less annoying to watch, because we know he’s scheduled for a wake-up call and comeback. Weird plays too slavishly by the rules of music biopics — there aren’t many surprises. Rainn Wilson does come through with a sensitive turn as Dr. Demento, the radio DJ who inspired and launched Weird Al, but even the good doctor gets an awkward moment where he stammers that he never had any kids and wants to adopt Al (in real life, Dr. Demento and his wife — she passed in 2017 — were childless by choice), but Al demurs. There’s discordant father-figure stuff throughout Weird that gives one pause.

Radcliffe throws himself into whatever each scene requires, and he’s often fun to watch, but the performance doesn’t really cohere. He’s playing a goofball variation on Weird Al that seems to shift from scene to scene. Weird is the feature directing debut of Eric Appel, who has worked on various comedy shows and on Funny or Die projects. On the evidence here, he should probably stick to short-form gags; the movie is predictable and borderline dull, poorly paced and, if I’m not mistaken, badly sound-synced during several performances. (Radcliffe sang the songs live but was later dubbed by Yankovic.) I like Weird Al a lot, don’t get me wrong, but my hunch is that people’s fondness for him (and for Radcliffe) is rubbing off on the rather inept movie. Stick with it through the end credits, though, for a new Weird Al ditty (“Now You Know”) that roasts movie-fed mythology far more efficiently than the film preceding it.

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