"Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" TIFF Review
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story asks one of the most important questions in cinema: why can’t musician biopics be fun? For decades this genre has been spinning its wheels (it’s closer to a century considering the first edition of A Star Is Born popularized this genre way back in 1937) churning the same old tired formula of humble beginnings, meteoric rise to fame, drugs & alcohol causing the downfall, and a final redemptive arc where our hero wises up and becomes the person they’re meant to be. Booooooooooring!
In the same vein as how he built his musical career, by parodying popular songs with his wacky lyrics, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story parodies the musical biopic genre by playing the same beats, but changing up the lyrics to make it something original and, you know… fun to watch.
Of course, our hero's journey has to start with an authoritarian figure disapproving of his accordion fixation. Al’s stern father, who works at “the factory,” forbids accordion playing in the house, calling it “the devil’s box.” Their relationship remains strained, prompting Al to move to California to pursue his niche dreams.
It turns out California is the place to be for accordion lovers, as Al finds himself rooming with three other enthusiasts who support his dreams. And in a moment of destiny, Al’s task of making sandwiches for the group produces his first “original” hit, “My Bologna.” With the lyrics of “Oo my little hungry one! Hungry one! Open up a package of MY bologna…,” Al’s rise to fame is set. I mean, who wouldn’t want to rock out to that?
Just as his father disapproved of his lifestyle, so do the record companies. They can’t comprehend why anyone would take a perfectly good song and change the lyrics to it. It’s blasphemy! So, Al’s fame stays underground, where he falls under the tutelage of Dr. Dimento (a charming Rainn Wilson, easily using his The Office chops for great effect). From there, Al falls in line with the rest of the grungy and off-beats starts of the late-70s/early-80s, including Andy Warhol, Divine, and Peewee Herman (all of which are played by a cavalcade of celebrity cameos, which eventually becomes a game of how many you can name in the short amount of time they have on-screen).
I’m guessing you know the rest of the story. And your assumption would be right, partially. Madonna’s entrance into the film brings about our hero's downfall, but with the added twist of a hilarious escapade into the jungle for a gunfight against Pablo Escobar.
Co-writer/director Eric Appel, who adapts his 2010 Funny or Die sketch (which Al used as a trailer for his concerts), lifts this above being just another SNL parody movie that overstays its welcome. Sure, the rapid-fire in-jokes and ribbings get a little stale by about the middle third, but there’s enough cleverly written material between that portion that makes up for it. And with Daniel Radcliffe tickling those ivory keys, you’ve got one hell of a show. Although he doesn’t provide the vocals (which are still done by the real Al), Radcliffe brings the zealous energy he’s been honing since his retirement from the Harry Potter series.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a near-perfect movie for midnight madness fans (which is where it premiered at this year’s TIFF), as it takes Weird Al's eclectic catalog and turns it against the tired music biopic genre. That's not to say this doesn't still fall into those same traps, but it is done with a little more ingenuity. Grab your accordion and get ready to rock!