One of the hardest films I’ve had to track down for some time, this Daniel Radcliffe music biopic of the master of parody Weird Al Yankovic debuted at the Toronto Film Festival so should be a big deal. But somehow, this nimble and ingenious parody of the conventional bio debuted exclusively on something called Roku in the UK, and seems pretty much impossible to see unless you have access to a Roku stick, which I absolutely don’t. This popped up, somehow no longer as a film, but as a tv programme in my awards viewing digest, so with some enthusiasm, I settled down to find out about the struggle of the true king of spoofing pop.
Novelty singers come and go; Weird Al is remarkable for his ability to surf the endless wave of pop, and still end up hand-standing on his board. So his biopic is just as much of an affectionate parody as his songs are; we see the child Al getting his first accordion from a door-to-door salesman, then his angry father smashing his beloved instrument. Al becomes a big attraction at polka parties, but he’s unlucky enough to be at one raided by police, no friend to the teenage accordion player. From such humble origins, Al is inspired to write, Shakespeare in Love style, various incidents in his life lead to parody tunes like My Bologna, Another One Rides the Bus and I Love Rocky Road, but true happiness eludes him until he finds his own voice writing songs like Eat It, a personal work horribly ripped off by Michael Jackson for his pallid imitation Beat It. Al’s manager, played by Weird Al, does his best to fight his corner as an artist, but the surgical intervention of Madonna (Rachel Evan Wood) drives Al to greatest creative heights and depths…
Humour is subjective, but I wouldn’t expect to see a laugh-out-loud funnier film this year than director Eric Appel and Yankovic have fashioned here; rather than just an anything goes parody, Weird zooms in on the pompous self-importance of most biopics, making something hilarious and original out of our superior position as Al comes up with his familiar tunes. Radcliffe shows great comic timing and playing ability, and Rainn Wilson, Dwight Schrute from the Office, provides a great assist as Al’s mentor. There’s all manner of creative cameos, from legend Emo Phillips as Salvador Dali, Demitri Martin as Tiny Tim, Jack Black as Wolfman Jack, and scenes are cheerfully repurposed from Boogie Nights and A Star is Born to irreverent effect. And a music biopic needs a big climax, and we get one here, with a chance discovery of his father’s tragic backstory inspiring Al to write his quasi-religious masterpiece Amish Paradise.
There’s very little downside here, just a couple of wayward gags, and an action movie parody involving Pablo Escobar which goes on a little too long, but otherwise, this is non-stop, jam-packed, all killa, no filla comedy gold from all concerned, and I’d cheerfully give this six stars if I could. A sequel is needed, covering Yankovic’s lesser known but still worthy tunes like Couch Potato and Pitiful, and also bringing things up to date with his rich parodies of Lady Gaga, Star Wars and Chamillionaire. If you don’t know Weird Al, this is a great crash course in the unique spirit of the man himself; a Funny or Die production, it’s terrific, good-natured comedy for anyone with a sense of humour, a pulse, or ideally both. Get down to your local Roku stick and check it out!