Watch: Trailer for comedy biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
For those of us in Britain, the noughties were a boom period for the comedy singing sensation known as Weird Al Yankovic. The infamous file sharing service Limewire was a gateway drug for numerous curious teenagers — this writer included — to discover the work of the accordion-playing California native, who has been recording and releasing music parodies since he appeared on the radio as a 16-year-old in 1976.
With songs like 'Another One Rides the Bus', 'Eat It' and 'Like a Surgeon', Yankovic has become a household name in the comedy music world — selling more than 12 million albums worldwide.
At one point, virtually every parody song ever written was credited to him online, to the extent that there's an exhaustive web page of tracks he absolutely did not perform, contrary to internet lore.
Now, the life of Yankovic — in a manner of speaking — is making its way to the movies, with Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as the man himself and featuring an array of comedy cameos, it's the most ridiculous subversion of the "biopic" genre in years. It has to be seen to be believed.
What is Weird: The Al Yankovic Story about?
It's not even close to correct to call Weird: The Al Yankovic Story a biopic. Its origins lie in a 2010 Funny or Die sketch, which parodied self-serious musical biopics with a trailer for a movie based on Yankovic. Aaron Paul played Yankovic in that trailer, which contains many moments that appear in the finished film.
As if pre-empting concerns about historical accuracy, the movie doesn't even attempt fidelity to truth. Co-written by Yankovic and director Eric Appel — best known for his work on sitcoms like New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine — it starts as if it's going to be a potted history of a young outcast kid's journey from secret childhood accordion player to global cult superstar.
Then, it goes off the rails pretty quickly.
Some of the details are true, or at least close to true. The US Office star Rainn Wilson plays Dr Demento — the comedy radio broadcaster who gave Yankovic his big break. Some of the details, however, are less than real. Evan Rachel Wood plays Madonna in the movie as a manipulative star hoping to seduce Yankovic and use his fame to boost her own career via the parody Like a Surgeon. In reality, Yankovic says he met Madonna for 45 seconds and, unsurprisingly, their meeting was strictly platonic.
The movie features a huge selection of comedy world cameos, including various members of The Lonely Island, Jack Black, Lin-Manuel Miranda, drag queen Nina West and Yankovic himself — reprising his role as a record executive from the original sketch. Many of the cameoing stars play real-life figures, and there are some brilliant surprises.
To say that things get absurd would be an understatement. The suggestion that Yankovic had a sexual relationship with Madonna isn't even in the top 10 strangest moments.
How can I watch Weird: The Al Yankovic Story in the UK?
Weird is the first original movie to be released in the UK via The Roku Channel. Roku is a free streaming service available to anyone with access to one of the devices which support it. That includes the devices the company itself makes — Roku TVs and streaming players — as well as via Sky Q and NOW.
As with other Roku Originals — including the various TV shows that had their US debuts on the ill-fated shortform streaming service Quibi — Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is available to stream for free.
It is released in the UK via The Roku Channel on 4 November. So anyone who has Sky Q, a NOW device or a Roku player can enjoy the weirdness for free.
Is Weird: The Al Yankovic Story any good?
It's difficult to explain why Weird: The Al Yankovic Story works so well because every adjective you immediately want to use sounds like a criticism. The movie is absurd, ridiculous, silly and, without question, the stupidest movie of the year. It's also one of the funniest.
Read more: The best music biopic movies
Appel and Yankovic's commitment to silliness means that accuracy — constantly in the back of your mind during a biopic — is entirely secondary to whatever would be the funniest outcome of any given scene. While at times the whole thing threatens to unravel like an improvisational comedy riff pushed too far, it never loses control and instead chooses to revel on the fine line it walks.
The tone pinballs wildly between knowingly over-cranked set pieces and pitch-perfect twists on the sort of playbook sequences common to many musical biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody or this year's Elvis. While it doesn't achieve the instant classic status of the bona fide comedy masterpiece Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping, it is a worthy addition to the canon of parodies of the music industry's determination to take itself as seriously as possible.
It helps that Radcliffe — as with so many of his unconventional roles — has an absolute understanding of the tone in which the movie is operating. He's deadpan and serious when the scene requires it, but equally willing to explode with manic energy or macho action hero fantasy. It's a committed performance by an actor with clear affection for his subject. Wood, too, has great fun chewing the scenery with sexually-charged abandon as a Machiavellian Madonna.
Weird is a movie that rewards those who are willing to wave goodbye to reality and dive headlong into its world of anarchy and accordions. It has a gag rate that most studio comedies would kill to match and a central performance of such intelligence and control that — were it in a serious movie — would be a definite contender for awards recognition.
Critical reaction thus far has mostly been enthusiastic, with 92% of critics on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes providing a positive response. It also won the People's Choice Award for Midnight Madness at the Toronto Film Festival. So it's well worth firing up The Roku Channel and taking a look.
Watch: Weird Al Yankovic clarifies his relationship with Madonna