A biopic only in name, Weird pushes the parody envelope as Yankovic tells a stereotypical story filled with his characteristic charm, forgetting the cinematic experience in the process.
As a kid, I struggled to remember lyrics. Whether it was Harrison’s sombre tones while his guitar gently wept or Winehouse’s fateful refusal to rehab, the words never seemed to lodge themselves in my brain, except for one. Polka and parodies were never at the top of my genre list, yet the moment Weird Al’s Yoda (a parody of Lola by the Kinks) played over my friend’s 10c Nokia speakers, I couldn’t forget a single line. Since then, I have listened to every album, laughed at every chorus and title, and can recite Amish Paradise (Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise) on command; in other words, I may be a tad biased.
High expectations can be a dangerous thing but considering my track record with Weird Al – who co-wrote the film alongside director Eric Appel – I should have remained faithful. From the word ‘go’, it is clear that Al has no intention of creating a biopic, sticking to his famed roots with an extreme amalgamation and parody of recent history’s litany of rock band biographical pictures. Weird opens on a flashforward to Al’s (played by Daniel Radcliffe) heroic death after an alcohol-fuelled car crash, quickly jumping back to his childhood as a young Alfred (Richard Aaron Anderson) falls in love with everyone’s favourite hardcore instrument: the accordion.
From there, Appel and Yankovic only get more absurd. Al’s father (think the dad from Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It video) is adamant against his son’s interest in the “devil’s squeezebox,” beating the door-to-door accordion salesman in a fit of rage. Years later, when teenage Al (David Bloom) goes to a secret polka house party he plays a majestic and uplifting solo, stunning the speechless crowd and leaving me breathless as I gasped for air between each hilarious gag.
Al rises to fame with only a few thrown-in hiccups that mimic the faithless studio exec scenes seen in Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, Weird Al making a cameo as one of the producers who, obviously, ends up eating his words when Al’s career soars to the moon. Yankovic’s other on-screen contribution is his vocals, taking a leaf out of Queen’s book by choosing to have Radcliffe be dubbed by the titular artist. The effect, while initially unnerving as Yankovic’s voice is instantly recognisable, is worth the early disappointment as it quickly shifts into a nostalgia trip that Bohemian Rhapsody could never grasp.
Al gets bigger and bigger, puffing up his ego as he turns into a polka rock star and alienates his band mates with speeches of how he is the weird one, his real-life mentor Dr Demento (Rainn Wilson) losing a man he would call a son. Weird also loses me as it rockets extravagantly through the stratosphere, one absurd plot point after the other struggling to stay where the film is at its funniest: on the ground poking fun at those with extremely tall sticks stuck up extremely dark places.
Like a curly-haired Icarus, Weird flies above the clouds of sanity only to hurtle back down with devastating speed, my laughs going with it. The self-aware ludicrous climb to the top reaches its peak 50 minutes into the film leaving an entire half to deal with the consequences of fame, a depressing plotline that doesn’t meld well with Yankovic’s incessant need to be funny.
Thankfully, the closing 15 minutes bring back the wholesome elements that make the film so memorable in the first place, wrapping it up with an encore of bits that build on previous highlights, but by then the damage is already done. The film’s extremities are always true to themselves yet their lack of originality glares between the parody gold, focusing too heavily on the satire and forgetting about the cinema. Yet, as a Weird Al fan, I can’t imagine it any other way.