Writing comedy is hard work, though you may not know it judging from all the romcoms and sitcoms that have landed on our screens over the years. There’s a difference, though, between writing shlock comedy and writing intelligent comedy, and when it comes to writing 90 to 100 minutes of comedy for a movie, that’s where we separate the boys and girls from the men and women. Perhaps the best comedy writer we’ve ever had is Mel Brooks but even he’s had a couple of clunker films over his illustrious career. His 1991 film, LIFE STINKS, and his 1995 film, DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT, were not his best efforts but we can certainly forgive him because he also gave us YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, BLAZING SADDLES and THE PRODUCERS.
Back in 2010, Eric Appel created a spoof trailer for a fictional biographical film about Weird Al Yankovic for the comedy video website, Funny or Die. Starring Aaron Paul (TV’s BREAKING BAD) as the curly-haired accordionist, the three-minute film also featured Olivia Wilde (DON’T WORRY DARLING; RICHARD JEWELL) as Madonna, Patton Oswalt (TV’s THE KING OF QUEENS) as Dr. Demento and Mary Steenburgen (NIGHTMARE ALLEY; BACK TO THE FUTURE PART iii) as Al’s mother. Yankovic made a cameo as well, appearing as a record producer. The trailer was a hit with audiences and Yankovic loved it so much that he would show it at his performances. Over the years, Weird Al fans asked for the film to be made and their wish was finally granted 12 years later with WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe (THE LOST CITY; the HARRY POTTER franchise), the story follows the same arcs as the original trailer covering the entertainer’s life from the time he was a young lad up living with his oppressive factory-worker father and overly doting mother to his meeting Dr. Demento (now played by Rainn Wilson (TV’s THE OFFICE) as a teenager, to his success as an accordion-playing parodist and his subsequent alcoholism, and up to his winning his first Grammy, except that it’s not a Grammy because there are IP issues associated with using the name and its image and this movie is, after all, a parody. In fact, very little in this story is true and that’s what makes it so funny. We’ve been getting biopics in recent years that have bent the truth so who better than Weird Al to give us a parody biopic that has almost no truth in it? In this biopic, Al attends one of Dr. Demento’s pool parties where he meets every cultural icon of the 1980s and a few from earlier than that (there are too many cameos here to mention and half the fun is seeing who is in the film), has a torrid relationship with Madonna (now played by Evan Rachel Wood, TV’s WESTWORLD) and takes on Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (hilariously played by Arturo Castro, TV’s BROAD STREET). He also has a near-death experience that gives him the inspiration to write one of his biggest hits.
Appel and Yankovic share the writing credits here and the pair load up their script with one over-the-top gag after another. I’ll concede that the Madonna bit overshoots the mark but, overall, this is a very funny movie that will literally have you laughing out loud. With the exception of one number that Radcliffe (sort of) sings, Yankovic does the musical vocals on the slightly tweaked tunes for the film. I suspect there’s an IP issue with that too. Radcliffe, though, is excellent here, playing Yankovic straight up the whole time. His best scene, however, comes when he performs “Like a Surgeon”. It’s reminiscent of Yankovic’s own performance of the number. (The latter is on YouTube and yes, that’s Patton Oswalt as his backup dancer.)
WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY is streaming now on Roku. It’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen this year. If you’ve got Roku where you live, check it out!
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