Alfred “Weird Al” Yankovic, gifted singer and accordion player, took the music world by storm by parodying well-known tracks. Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” became an ode to food called “Eat It;” Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” transformed into a medical anthem called “Like a Surgeon.” It only makes sense, then, that a Weird Al biopic be just as bizarre and eccentric as he is. Directed by Eric Appel and co-written by Weird Al himself, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story tells the story of the musician’s life from childhood to the heart of towering stardom: A true story replete with a healthy assortment of exaggerations and fabrications.
Just like Weird Al isn’t your typical musician, Weird isn’t your typical musician biopic. Based on a 2010 Funny or Die sketch, the film operates as a scathing satire of the subgenre. Appel goes to great lengths to establish his film’s self-awareness from its opening scene: An energetic, anarchic sequence during which Al (Daniel Radcliffe) is wheeled through the corridors of an emergency room, seemingly on death’s door, only for him to spring out of bed and request a pen and paper. This delightfully absurd moment is followed by a musical biopic staple: The record scratch, “I bet you’re wondering how I ended up here” moment. From this moment onward, it is clear that Weird is as much a biopic as it is a parody of a biopic (just like Weird Al’s songs are equal parts songs as they are parodies of songs, get it?).
From there, Weird spirals into a full-blown, unapologetic parody. Like Weird Al’s songs, the jokes are comical if not a little predictable. Following its biopic predecessors, Weird Al’s childhood is chock-full of parental disappointment, with his mother (Julianne Nicholson) instructing him to simply “stop being who you are and doing what you love,” and his father (Toby Huss) beating a man who tries to sell young Al an accordion within an inch of his life. The music biopic genre has been churning out a surplus of cliched misfires like Bohemian Rhapsody, but any joke that runs for an hour and 50 minutes is bound to get old eventually, and that’s exactly what happens here.
Weird’s commitment to the bit eventually gets tiresome. Perhaps its most vexing gag is Weird Al’s relationship with Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), which goes on for far too long. The butt of the joke is that Madonna wasn’t actually a money-grubbing moocher, and it would be shocking if she expressed a desire to be a drug lord. And while this overt character switch-up is funny in theory and elicits laughs for a while, it is so far disconnected from reality that it gets exhaustingly nonsensical at times, and by the third act, it feels eerily like hearing the same joke over and over again.
Indeed, Weird tone makes it difficult to get invested in the story. The majority of the film takes place outside the realm of the real—Weird Al’s hyperbolic relationship with his parents; Madonna’s wildly conspiratorial personality—and occurs at a breakneck speed. It’s all related to us with such deep sarcasm that it is difficult to find anything to grasp onto. This of course isn’t to say that Weird Al’s story shouldn’t be told with a sense of humor—it would be strange if it wasn’t. But the film’s sense of humor doesn’t always land. For the most part, its comedy includes either characters saying things brazenly on-the-nose (Weird Al’s mother telling him “your father wants you to know that he’s not proud of you) or characters acting with a baseline level of absurdity. And while these bits are funny at first, they quickly become repetitive, and make Weird feel like a two-trick pony.
This lack of range is a shame, because Weird boasts an excellent lead performance by Radcliffe, who plays Weird Al with a staggering kinetic energy that makes him impossible to look away from. His comedic timing is nailed down to the millisecond. Remind me, why aren’t we casting him in every comedy? Radcliffe’s co-stars have their work cut out for them in acting alongside such a force, but for the most part, they are up for the task: Rainn Wilson effortlessly dishes up plenty of zany one-liners, and Wood commits enthusiastically to her gum-smacking caricature of Madonna.
Weird’s performances are all a blast to watch, as is the film, most of the time. A jolly romp filled with songs, jokes and clever twists on a well-known genre, it is plenty of fun—but only if you can forgive how frequently it repeats the same old joke, and, as a result, becomes guilty of overplaying its own gimmick.
Director: Eric Appel
Writers: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Eric Appel
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson, Toby Huss, Julianne Nicholson, Quinta Brunson, Spencer Treat Clark, Dot-Marie Jones, Will Forte
Release Date: November 4, 2022 (Roku)
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.