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Never mind that it's not factual, this Weird Al biopic parody is very, very funny


This is FRESH AIR. Tomorrow, the movie "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" premieres on the Roku platform and streaming service. It stars "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe. It's a musical biopic parody. And our TV critic David Bianculli says it isn't very factual, but it is, he says, very, very funny. Here's David.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: It's been a dozen years now since music parody artist Weird Al Yankovic teamed with writer-director Eric Appel to make a comedy short for the Funny Or Die website. It was a spoof trailer for a nonexistent biopic of Al Yankovic, and the short featured Aaron Paul as Al, Gary Cole is Al's disapproving dad, and Olivia Wilde as Madonna.

It took more than a decade for Yankovic and Appel to make a full-length movie out of it, but they have. It premieres on Roku, which you can access from smart TVs, platform devices, smartphones and laptops. This new expanded comedy spoof is called "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" and stars Daniel Radcliffe from the "Harry Potter" movies as Weird Al. Toby Huss and Julianne Nicholson play Al's parents. And in this scene, featuring a younger actor playing a preteen Al, all the familiar musical biopic tropes of parental disapproval are hit and hit hard.


TOBY HUSS: (As Nick Yankovic) In fact, we'll make a man out of you.

RICHARD AARON ANDERSON: (As Young Weird Al) But I don't want to work at the factory. I want to make songs.

HUSS: (As Nick Yankovic) What? You want to make songs? Did you hear that, Mary? We got a regular Bing Crosby on our hands, don't we?

JULIANNE NICHOLSON: (As Mary Yankovic) Nick, you're embarrassing him.

HUSS: (As Nick Yankovic) Oh, am I? Why don't you sing us a little ditty, Bing, huh? Such a little songbird. Sing one for us.

ANDERSON: (As Young Weird Al, singing) Amazing grapes, how sweet the juice. It tastes so good to me.

HUSS: (As Nick Yankovic) Oh, stop. Wait, stop. What in God's name are you doing? Those aren't the right words.

ANDERSON: (As Young Weird Al) I know. I made them better.

HUSS: (As Nick Yankovic) By changing the lyrics to a well-known song? No, boy, what you're doing is confusing and evil. My God and I will not have that kind of blasphemy in my own home.

BIANCULLI: "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" is the funniest and most entertaining satire of musical biography films since "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." Don't expect much truth in the telling here, but do expect some over-the-top fun. In this scene, Al, now played by Radcliffe, is making sandwiches for his roommates when "My Sharona" comes on the radio. And inspiration strikes for Al's first pop music parody. He grabs his accordion and performs immediately for his roommates, whose reactions are priceless.


DANIEL RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al, singing) Ooh, my little hungry one, hungry one, open up a package of my bologna. Ooh, I think the toast is done, the toast is done. Top it with a little of my bologna.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Where did that come from?

JACK LANCASTER: (As Jim) Dude, I've got chills.

RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al) I don't know. It just came out of me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I've never heard anything like that before in my life. You have to record that.

RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al) Record it? No. Come on, guys.

LANCASTER: (As Jim) Al, you've got something here. I don't know if it comes from God or the devil, but the world needs to hear it.

BIANCULLI: Al records a cassette tape of "My Bologna," sends it to a novelty radio show, then takes it to a record company, where the executives there listen to the tape and offer their expert opinions. One is played by Will Forte, one of many, many playful cameos in this movie. The other, who speaks first, is played by the real Al Yankovic.


WEIRD AL YANKOVIC: (As Tony) I've heard enough.

RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al) And what did you think?

YANKOVIC: (As Tony) Do you know why they call it the music business?

RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al) Why?

YANKOVIC: (As Tony) Because it's a business.

WILL FORTE: (As Ben) It's a business.

YANKOVIC: (As Tony) Use your head, kid. Nobody wants to hear a parody song when they can hear the real thing for the same price. What's the point?

FORTE: (As Ben) Yeah. It makes no financial sense whatsoever.

RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al) My song was actually a big hit on "The Captain Buffoon Show."

FORTE: (As Ben) What?

YANKOVIC: (As Tony, laughter) Oh.

FORTE: (As Ben) Captain Buffoon, really?

RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al) Yeah.

YANKOVIC: (As Tony) Wait, wait. Captain Buffoon actually played your song on the radio?

RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al) Yeah.

YANKOVIC: (As Tony) Why didn't you tell us? This changes everything. Ben, get this young gentleman a record contract this very instant. We are going to sign him to a 14-album deal.

RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al) Wait. Really?

YANKOVIC: (As Tony) No.

BIANCULLI: The rise to stardom story follows predictable steps, but with plenty of goofiness and detours along the way. At one point, Radcliffe, as Weird Al, gets to be an action hero - and another, he gets a big romantic subplot paired with Madonna. She's played by "Westworld" star Evan Rachel Wood, who has surprisingly sharp comic timing. Other treats come in the form of those cameos - Jack Black as Wolfman Jack, Conan O'Brien as Andy Warhol and so many more. And his co-star, Rainn Wilson from NBC's "The Office," is perfectly cast as Dr. Demento. But what makes this expanded version of the original parody short so much stronger and more giddy is the time devoted to Weird Al's original songs. Like the best comedy songs by Allan Sherman and Tom Lehrer, Yankovic's parodies are clever and enjoyable, especially if you haven't heard them in years.


RADCLIFFE: (As Weird Al, singing) When I'm all alone, I just grab myself a cone. And if I get fat and lose my teeth, that's fine with me. Just lock me in the freezer and throw away the key, singing, I love rocky road, so won’t you go and buy half a gallon, baby. I love rocky road.

BIANCULLI: The real Al Yankovic wrote this parody film with Eric Appel, and Appel directed. And for this new version, Yankovic wrote a song to play over the closing credits that by itself is longer than the Funny Or Die parody teaser from 12 years ago. And that new song, too, is very, very funny and worth sticking around to hear. Whatever it was that Weird Al Yankovic had when he started, it's clear that he's still got it.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey. He reviewed "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story," available tomorrow on the Roku platform and streaming service.


YANKOVIC: (Singing) Ah, what a wild ride. How about that part where I died? I was not expecting that. But I’m back, baby, here to wreak my zombie apocalypse upon you all. Now you know. Now you know. Now you know. You know it. And the union scale background singers sing - now you know. Now you know. Now you know. No fabrications, no exaggerations - it’s the gospel of truth. Now you know. Now you know. Now you know. Starting to feel like this song is slightly repetitive. Now you know.

DAVIES: If you'd like to check out interviews you've missed, like our interview with Chinonye Chukwu, director and co-writer of the new film "Till," or if you'd like to listen to our Halloween shows, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.


Fresh Air
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.