Weird: The Al Yankovic Story: Dare to Be Smart, by David Bax
If I were a schoolkid assigned, for some reason, to write a report on Eric Appel‘s new high-concept biopic parody Weird: The Al Yankovic Story and I really wanted to phone it in, I could probably get pretty near the word count minimum just by listing the notable members of the cast. It’s not an exaggeration to say that nearly every single role of consequence (and many of none whatsoever) is filled by a recognizable comedian. That may be a symptom of just how universally beloved the real Yankovic is (and yes, he appears here too). But it’s also just one aspect of what makes Weird such a blast.
Of course, Weird isn’t populated by comedic cameos alone. There are also a couple of leads. Daniel Radcliffe turns out to be perfect for Appel’s approach here (the director also co-wrote the screenplay with Yankovic himself). He channels the driven genius biopic that’s being roasted here, never winking or assuring you he’s in on the joke, which makes everything all the more funny. Meanwhile, the film has a surprisingly large role for Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna. She’s essentially the second lead and is similarly go-for-broke committed.
In case you’re wondering how the material girl plays such a huge part in Yankovic’s life story, allow me to clarify that Weird is not a comic retelling of the real Yankovic’s life but an almost completely fabricated legend of a man and of a (slightly) alternate reality. This world’s “Weird Al” Yankovic is the most popular recording artist of all time and manages to come into contact with notable figures from Oprah Winfrey (Quinta Brunson) to Pablo Escobar (Arturo Castro).
Maybe the funniest thing, conceptually, about this version of Yankovic’s life is that the funniest thing about the real him, his music, is not considered funny by his adoring fans or the populace at large. In other words, the movie’s Yankovic didn’t get famous for making people laugh but by genuinely moving and inspiring them with his new lyrics to existing songs. This is all, of course, absurd. They’re the same songs, all about bologna and stuff. Which makes Weird both intellectually humorous as well as downright goddamn silly.
For instance, take the fact that Radcliffe doesn’t sing. The singing voice on all the songs is that of the real Yankovic, whose speaking voice Radcliffe in no way attempts to mimic. It’s ridiculous. And hilarious.
Weird has plenty to offer longtime acolytes of Yankovic’s music but it’s far from a series of in-jokes, references and fan service. Instead, what takes the movie to a higher level is its spiritual kinship with Yankovic’s lifelong mission. It’s a parody of other types of movies, mostly (but, delightfully, not solely) biopics. That means what started years ago as an Internet short is more than able to sustain itself at feature length because it keeps switching up its targets.