Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, the new musical biopic on the Roku Channel, has two huge questions to answer. How did Alfred Matthew Yankovic become the pop sensation we know and love?
And what is the Roku Channel?
Seriously, do I have Roku? Is it in my TV? I'm sure we have a Roku stick in a drawer somewhere. Anyway, it's worth finding the remote, because Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Rainn Wilson, is funny as hell.
The film tells the story of accordion-playing Al Yankovic's rise to 1980s superstardom releasing parody songs adding silly new lyrics to pop hits. Mentored by top-hatted radio DJ known to listeners as Dr Demento, Al hits big with spoof songs like My Bologna, Eat It and Like a Surgeon. Becoming the biggest star in the world, he embarks on a torrid affair with the queen of pop and ignites a bloody feud with a drug cartel.
If that's not quite the way you remember it, that's because Weird isn't a straight biopic. Instead, the film spoofs the genre, hitting the familiar beats of a musical biopic until they break: the troubled childhood, abusive father, fevered musical inspiration and the inevitable falling out with bandmates. You've seen a lot of this stuff in a similar biopic parody, 2007's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but Weird hits enough high notes to feel fresh. There's the unexpected spiral into a parody of the action genre, for a start. But most of all, Weird gets by on sheer exuberance, carried along by zingy performances and a keen sense of the absurd.
Playing Weird Al, Radcliffe is as cheerfully earnest as ever (and, incongruously, as jacked as a Marvel superhero). Rainn Wilson doesn't have a lot to do as his musical mentor Dr Demento (although he does have an excellent pay-off scene), while Evan Rachel Wood looks the part as Madonna. In another dizzying meta twist, more of today's comic actors play stylized versions of Al's '80s pop culture peers, and some of those 80s contemporaries also appear playing different characters. I won't ruin the cameos, but when the first in this parade of familiar figures appeared I thought it was actually them. There's a glamorous pool party that'll have you pausing the film trying to work out who's playing who. Just to add a little spice, see if you can spot Weird Al himself playing… well, see if you can spot him.
Weird originated as a short Funny or Die comedy video way back in 2010 (which starred Aaron Paul as Al and Olivia Wilde as Madonna), and there's something of that gonzo YouTube spirit in the feature-length film. As well as the sharply-sketched genre pastiche, other highlights include an extended comic riff on Weird Al's totes awks enduring connection with Michael Jackson after parodying Jackson's hit Beat It (or was it the other way round?). Director Eric Appel extends his original short into a full film that spins out the gag all the way to the end (and into the chucklesome closing credits, complete with joke-packed new song).
Weird is funny enough to be a bigger deal, even a theatrical release. Happily, it's available now for free on the Roku channel (which you can find, in all seriousness, on Roku devices, via iOS and Android apps, plus Amazon Fire TV and certain Samsung TVs).