Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Review: A Polka Party Of Absurdity [TIFF]

"Weird Al" Yankovic may seem like a nerd who wears Hawaiian shirts and plays the accordion, but did you know he got into a war with drug lord Pablo Escobar, engaged in a toxic relationship with Madonna, outsold The Beatles, and inspired Michael Jackson to write "Beat It"? Of course you didn't, because none of that is true. But in the delightfully ludicrous "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story," Yankovic gets a big silly biopic where nothing is impossible. In true Weird Al fashion, this isn't really a biopic — it's a parody of a biopic. The film tracks how the song parody man rose to fame and fortune, but presents it in an almost entirely fictional way, giving director and co-writer Eric Appel (the real Yankovic, who has a cameo in the film, is credited as another writer) freedom to run wild.

The results are consistently hysterical, but we've been here before. Appel already told this story in short form, in a memorable Funny or Die short that had Aaron Paul playing Yankovic. For the feature adaptation, Daniel Radcliffe slips on Al's Hawaiian shirt, and while Radcliffe will forever be known as Harry Potter, this might be the best work he's ever done. He fully commits to becoming this version of Yankovic, who dreams of becoming, if not quite the best accordion player, then at least the most well-known. He also wants to make parody songs, something he starts at a young age, changing the lyrics from "Amazing Grace" to "Amazing Grapes."

But Al's parents are worried. Al's father, the volatile Nick (Toby Huss), loathes the idea of his son playing the accordion. Even though this film is loaded with some point-at-the-screen cameos, Huss is the real MVP here, because he plays his role of a disapproving father 100% straight. Several other actors are clearly winking at the camera, but Huss takes this seriously, which makes it all the more hilarious. There's also Al's mother Mary (Julianne Nicholson), who tries to be supportive of her son, but mostly sides with her husband. "Your father and I think it would be best if you stopped being who you are and doing what you love," Mary tells her son in a heart-to-heart. But Al won't quit. He's going to be a star.

My Bologna

Eventually, Al begins to live his dreams. He writes a parody song of "My Sharona" called "My Bologna" that becomes a radio hit, and his parody of "I Love Rock 'N Roll," "I Love Rocky Road," gets the attention of novelty song DJ Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), who takes Al under his wing. Some of this is indeed based on fact, but "Weird" isn't interested in sticking to those facts. Instead, it goes off on its own, putting together a highly unlikely story full of absurdity. We learn that Al's song "Eat It" was not, in fact, a parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." In the world of this film, Al wrote "Eat It" first, and it was Jackson who was parodying him.

We also learn Al fell into a relationship with Madonna (a very game Evan Rachel Wood). But does the Material Girl really love Al, or is she using him so he'll write a parody of one of her songs? Through it all, no matter how rich and famous Al gets (his mansion keeps growing in size every time we see it), something is missing. He can't escape the idea that his father — who has spent his life working in a mysterious factory — refuses to accept his son.

All of this unfolds at a rather brisk pace, but sooner or later, "Weird" starts to run dry. While the film is consistently funny — I laughed out loud, and I mean really loud, on more than one occasion — the narrative begins to drag, giving one the sense that Appel was right to make this a short film first, and that maybe, just maybe, it should've stayed that way. Yet it's hard to fault "Weird" since it's so damn convivial. The movie is loaded with great little gags, like when teenage Al gets invited to a party that turns out to be a polka party, where all the teens pass around an accordion as if it were a joint. Or when Al's college roommates suddenly reveal to him they're a killer backup band just when he needs them. "You guys are great," he says after they back him up at a gig. "Why didn't you tell me you could play?" "It didn't seem relevant until now," one of them answers.

Eat It

Visually, Appel's direction is rather flat, which might be because the film is financed by Roku, the streaming device turned streaming service. "Weird" can't quite escape its "made for TV" look, particularly in a lengthy LSD trip that makes use of some distractingly bad CGI. You could argue that it's intentionally bad-looking to coincide with the film's wacky nature, but I think that would be a bit of a cop-out.

"Weird" is bound to thrill "Weird Al" fans young and old, but it's also great fun for people only casually familiar with Yankovic and his hits. And as funny as the script is, it wouldn't be nearly as successful without Radcliffe, who gives the role his all. Like Huss, he's never letting us know that he's in on the joke. He's becoming "Weird Al," or at least the version of Weird Al that exists in the film's wacky reality. And what an amusing reality that is.

Musician biopics are incredibly stale and formulaic, which makes them ripe for parody. While "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" remains the king of musician biopic parodies, and "Weird" doesn't even come close to dethroning it, it makes for a nice addition to the genre. As is the case when enjoying Weird Al's songs, sometimes you just want to laugh your ass off at something very silly, and on that front, "Weird" delivers.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10