Eurovision Song contest: the story of fire saga
I want to start my review of the new Will Ferrell Netflix comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga by saying I have grown tired of Will Ferrell’s screen persona. It has been a decade since I liked one of his live-action comedies (The Other Guys). His deluded middle-aged man-child routine has worn increasingly thin in the ensuing years. Couple that with largely bad screenplays and you get results such as The House or Holmes & Watson.
It was with that in mind that I sat down to watch Eurovision Song Contest, expecting a sophomoric parody of the very real, long-running, European music competition. Instead, it is closer to a poke in the ribs. Still sophomoric at times, but celebratory. It is more amusing than consistently funny, with a final act that stuffs so much in it hurts the movie’s momentum. Yet it is generally enjoyable and seems to love its characters. I am not sure the last time a Will Ferrell movie could be described that way.
As the title says, this is the story of Fire Saga, a duo from Iceland. Lars has dreamed of winning Eurovision since he was a little boy. His talented partner, Sigrit, has followed along mostly because she loves him. Then, a series of unlikely (and very funny) events find them not only entering an Icelandic singing competition, but getting into Eurovision.
Of course, Ferrell is playing a deluded middle-aged man-child; this one happens to be more palatable. It is easier to accept that sweet Sigrit would see something in the selfish Lars, due to him being not as much of a jerk as the characters Ferrell usually chooses. As opposed to a lot of his filmography, Eurovision Song Contest is not making fun of its characters. Even Lars, with the exception of a few bits that are nearer to what we have come to know from him and seem out of step with everything around it.
The big gags do not always work. However, there is an overall feeling of joy, both in the tone and performances, that keep Eurovision Song Contest going. Rachel McAdams plays Sigrit like she does not notice the ridiculousness. She has not done a lot of this kind of comedy but, between this and Game Night, she has proven she has the charm and timing to pull it off. She balances Ferrell well, actually outshining him. An actor matching his style here would have been death. While McAdams is certainly better than the material, she is at least able to move it toward her level.
Once they get to Eurovision, there are outsized personalities. The one who stands out is Dan Stevens as Lemtov, the contest favorite. He is a flamboyant Russian with an eye for Sigrit. He is obviously set up as the obstacle in the way of Fire Saga’s possible happy ending. He is supposed to be the villain, something the movie fails to make particularly convincing. Perhaps because his motive is incredibly fuzzy. Regardless, it is somewhat made up for by the fact that Stevens is pretty funny in the role. It could have become a caricature, but the screenplay mostly sidesteps scoring cheap laughs with lazy Russian jokes.
Eurovision Song Contest works as well as it does because it never mocks the characters for their dreams. There are a few vulgar gags (mildly funny ones), though it avoids getting nasty. There are several moments where the story stops to show characters singing and, outside of a couple that move the plot forward, they are not meant to be funny performances. In those scenes, I could really understand why Eurovision, and similar competitions, are popular. A little passion even comes through; surprising for a goofy Will Ferrell comedy. Despite its issues, it is just pleasant fun. Exactly what is needed right now.
3¼ out of 5
Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong
Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir
Dan Stevens as Alexander Lemtov
Melissanthi Mahut as Mita Xenakis
Pierce Brosnan as Erick Erickssong
Demi Lovato as Katiana
Directed by David Dobkin
Written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele