‘Weird’ Takes the Piss out of the Music Industry

The Weird Al movie is more than just a biopic parody

We finally get a movie about comic musician “Weird Al” Yankovic that truly reflects a career no one thought could last almost four decades.

“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” the first feature length film produced by the underdog streaming giant Roku, isn’t just a mirror of Al’s ability to create funny, wicked and even biting parodies of pop music giants’ biggest hits. It’s a reflection of the true target of Al’s parodies: the music industry.

The film, directed by Eric Appel and written by Yankovic and Appel, takes the biopic trope of dramatizing a misunderstood artist’s life and turns it on itself by playing up the defining moments of the artist’s life and laying out the moments and struggles that drove them to become household names. It’s based on a a faux trailer for just such a movie starring Aaron Paul in the title role released in 2013 on Funny or Die, which helped produce the feature-length version starring Daniel Radcliffe.

The main gist of “Weird” is wildly exaggerating the true Al Yankovic story for laughs, and it’s not without its challenges. Yankovic and Appel must know that such an effort would evoke thoughts of the brilliant 2007 biopic parody film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a film that came on the heels of a string of critically acclaimed and successful biographic films of music superstars like Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.

Fortunately, they have two things going for them. “Weird” is based on an real person who’s spent his life mastering the art of pairing parody. He’s silly even when he’s being critical of an artist. So Yankovic has a license to completely go in whatever direction he wants to completely throw the audience off a narrative they think they’ve already seen.

Both use musicians’ infamous bouts with sex and alcoholism dependency and hallucinogenic drugs to cope with the trappings of fame and success to their full comedic effect but Yankovic and Appel find some surprising and (most importantly) funny ways to zig when the audience thinks the movie is going to zag. It’s so good that the last thing I wanna do is describe them and destroy the enjoyment of seeing them veer off a cliff and land someplace else.

The movie also speaks about one of the bigger, but less apparent, targets that Yankovic has lambasted in his career. Yankovic is more than just a musician who changes a word in a song title so he can update the rest of the lyrics to reflect its subject material. He also targets the entire music industry apparatus and the cult of celebrity it creates.

Al’s very capable of mimicking the most popular or interesting songs but he can also mimic styles and choreograph original melodies in a variety of genres, a subject he’s often called “style parodies” that range from alt-rock (“I’m Gonna Sue” that borrows the sounds and socially defiant styles of rock groups like Rage Against the Machine) to zydeco (“My Baby’s in Love with Eddie Vedder” that’s about a guy who’s significant other is…in love…with Eddie Vedder. They don’t all have to be like Jonathan Swift, you know). He did Devo better than Devo with “Dare to Be Stupid,” a fact that even Mark Mothersbaugh admits by saying “and I hate him for it, basically” in a VH1 “Behind the Music” episode of Yankovic’s career.

There’s a misnomer in comedy and satire that someone who parodies or even tries to be critical of a target has to land the joke with the brute force of an anvil that’s been pushed out of a twin engine Cessna. But the music industry doesn’t need a shovel to the head to subvert it. It parodies itself by propping up raging egos like Kanye West or Ye or whatever he calls himself now.

Yankovic is one of the few scandal-free musical and comedy artists we have left who actually treats his fans and success with sincere appreciation. So it makes an even better setup for “Weird” to treat his “story” as one where we must revere the subject’s art as much as a Faberge egg, somehow giving them a free pass to commit felonies and risk theirs and others’ personal health and safety. The result produces something that looks like the story of any chart-topping musician if they wore Hawaiian shirts and sported a curly white guy ‘fro.

“Weird” is the end result of a career making fun of an industry that lost its sense of humor a long time ago.

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Danny Gallagher

Danny Gallagher is an entertainment and comedy writer based out of Dallas, Tx. He's written for The Dallas Observer, Cracked, CNET, MTV Online, Jackbox Games and an episode of the 13th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

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