So. Many. Hawaiian. Shirts. You wouldn’t think it would be possible for there to be that many Hawaiian shirts somewhere in Toronto in September, but the world premiere of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” on the first night of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival was no ordinary night.
The playfully inventive movie stars Daniel Radcliffe in a fully committed, vividly silly performance as “Weird Al” Yankovic, who has made a career and a devoted fanbase out of parody songs such as “My Bologna,” “Eat It,” “Like a Surgeon” and “Jurassic Park.” Evan Rachel Wood appears as Madonna, who begins an affair with Yankovic in hopes of convincing him to parody one of her songs. Rainn Wilson appears as Yankovic’s mentor, radio host Doctor Demento, Quinta Brunson plays Oprah Winfrey and there is a slew of other cameos from the likes of Jack Black, Conan O’Brien and Patton Oswalt.
Screening as the opening night of the festival’s Midnight Madness section, the event took place in the historic Royal Alexandra Theatre, built in 1907 and used this year for the first time as a venue by TIFF. Midnight Madness screenings had previously taken place at the Ryerson Theatre, an auditorium on a local college campus and the rowdy, school’s out vibes of the screenings made sense there. Would the Alexandra’s ornate proscenium and vintage flourishes fit a rowdy audience ready to clap along to the festival ads that screen before the feature?
As it turns out, Midnight Madness is right at home in the Royal Alexandra.
Before the screening, a synchronized dance team hit the street outside the Alexandra, all wearing Hawaiian shirts, wigs and false moustaches to replicate Yankovic’s signature look and dancing to songs such as “I Love Rocky Road.”
Inside the theater, there were even more Hawaiian shirts and more than a few people cosplaying as Yankovic with wigs and moustaches. After the screening, a couple attempted to give handmade Weird Al puppets to Yankovic and star Daniel Radcliffe, but were quickly shut down. (After the event the pair were sort of forlornly wandering the aisles, puppets still in hand.)
Co-written by Yankovic himself and “Weird” director Eric Appel, the movie has its origins in a fake movie trailer made over 10 years ago by Appel starring Aaron Paul as Yankovic (and Olivia Wilde as Madonna) that became a hit among Yankovic fans. He was asked so often when he was going to make a movie that Yankovic eventually emailed Appel and asked him to collaborate on actually making one.
Before the screening began, Midnight Madness head Peter Kuplowsky said, “Tonight, history is going to be changed. Wikipedia pages are going to be rewritten,” and indeed one hopes that no one mistakenly takes anything from the film as actual truth.
Which is not to say viewers won’t learn anything about Weird Al. The movie is very much from the Yankovic worldview, a parody of musical biopics done in the spirit of Yankovic’s own music, with a delightful sense of humor. There are many movie references and jokes, including “Boogie Nights,” “The Doors, “Forrest Gump,” the Bradley Cooper Grammys scene from “A Star Is Born” and more.
After the screening, Yankovic, Radcliffe, Appel and Wood came out for a Q&A.
“I did what I could,” was how Radcliffe explained trying to get as proficient as possible on the accordion. “It’s a very hard instrument and he makes it look very easy.”
Wood quipped, “And I had to be in the trailer next to him while he practiced.”
Later Radcliffe explained, “I’m playing a version of Al, I think it’s fair to say… a version that does insane things that this man would never do.”
Wood said it was easy to say yes to the idea of playing Madonna in a Weird Al biopic starring Radcliffe. And though the love affair between Yankovic and Madonna is (presumably) fictionalized — as is (presumably) the movie’s depiction of Madonna taking over Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel and ultimately putting a hit out on Yankovic — Wood took the role seriously.
To prepare she watched many, many Madonna videos and interviews online to capture the bubble-gum snap of her voice in the 1980s because, as Wood said, “I knew it was a heightened version, and a sociopathic version, of Madonna, but I still wanted it to be good.”
The movie will be available on The Roku Channel starting Nov. 4. During the film’s closing credits, an original song by Yankovic titled “Now You Know” plays out, with multiple false endings and lyrics that reflect on the movie — “This movie is now canon.” The lyrics also point out that the song is eligible for Oscar consideration (for which the film would need at least a qualifying theatrical run). That much, one hopes, is actually true.