In the world of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, polka parties were the quickest way for rebellious teens to get back at their parents, and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” is a parody track of Weird Al’s 100% original song “Eat It.” The Al Yankovic Story, like the career of Weird Al that it takes many huge liberties with, is a series of winking parodies that fans of the original material will immediately get, but at a cost–if you don’t know the source material, you might not always be in on the joke.
Spoilers follow for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.
NBC’s Community, in many of its best moments, was a send-up of television tropes–a constant acknowledgment that television is a construct made up of off-the-shelf parts that come from different shows, networks, and creators parroting each other. It felt like a show made that adored television as a medium even as it made fun of it.
Weird is in a similar, but more focused vein. Early on in the film, Al declares his intent to become “maybe not technically the best, but arguably the most famous accordion player in an extremely specific genre of music.” Similarly, Weird is a parody of an extremely specific genre of film, the dramatic biographical movie or biopic. However, if you’re looking for a straight-up dramatic retelling of Al Yankovic’s life, you’re going to be in for a double disappointment. Not only is that not the story Weird is looking to tell, but Yankovic’s life and career also aren’t all that dramatic. Even as a successful musician, his worst scandal is that Coolio didn’t like his parody of “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and he and the late rapper successfully hashed things out long ago. Indeed, Al himself said that part of the idea behind doing a parody biopic about him is that a straight-faced one would have nothing to tell.
To get the most out of Weird, you have to be ready for it. The movie is filled with nods to and takedowns of biopics, poking fun at the way they often play fast-and-loose with the details and try only with the lightest of effort to keep clear the line between the actor and the performer. In an early scene, Yankovic writes his classic parody of “My Sharona” in real-time, looking around the room for inspiration. When he sings, it isn’t actor Daniel Radcliffe belting out the tunes, or even a younger performer doing a closer version of Yankovic’s voice–it’s the 63-year-old performer’s voice coming out of the 33-year-old man’s mouth.
This version of Al Yankovic lives life fast and hard, going to celebrity parties, putting out lit cigarettes in the palms of record executives, hooking up with Madonna, and binge drinking. If you’ve watched Walk the Line or The Doors, the third act of the film plays much more like those movies than anything that actually happened to Yankovic.
For those who love lampoons of the entertainment industry–and films that revolve around said industry, these moments land nicely. But for those who have a surface-level appreciation of Al’s music and don’t know much about the man behind the accordion, especially younger audiences that quite possibly haven’t sat down to watch a number of the films and events the movie is parodying, it’s entirely possible to miss the joke.
Part of the joy in listening to Weird Al is hearing a familiar tune or style and then listening to Yankovic twist it around and flip it on its head–the surprise and joy of the unexpected. The point of parody is to trick you for a moment into believing it’s the real thing. In that way, Weird is a perfect match for the man it’s about; anyone expecting an Oscar-bait biopic will find themselves caught off guard, like someone expecting to hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and instead hearing “Smells Like Nirvana.” If you’re not in on the joke, the title–Weird–may seem especially apt.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Movie is streaming free on Roku now.
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