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Despite being one of the most-watched annual events in the world, the Eurovision Song Contest isn’t something of which most Americans are probably aware, but you don’t have to learn much about it to understand that it’s ripe for parody. Like an Olympics for music, the base premise is that each country in Europe sends a representative band to the competition, and then that group delivers what is usually a ridiculously over-the-top performance that is voted on by both judges and audiences. It’s a set-up that is so naturally fit for a Will Ferrell comedy that some people learning about his latest movie may wonder if the whole thing is simply fictionalized.
Unfortunately, all of the promise that is present in the film’s premise melts away with the actual execution. As much opportunity may naturally exist, David Dobkin’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga never fully capitalizes, and it coalesces as a movie that should be far funnier than it actually is. Save for a few legitimately good gags with excellent payoffs, it plays too safe to the point where it ceases being a comedy about the event and instead starts feeling more like a commercial.
Our entry point into this story is the aspiration of Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), a pair of Icelandic musicians who have spent the majority of their lives dreaming of one day representing their country on the Eurovision Song Contest stage. The problem is that they are awful, and everybody in their small village hates them – including Lars’ father, Erick (Pierce Brosnan), who is totally ashamed of his son, and may or may not also be Sigrit’s father.
Given their terribleness, they naturally fail hard at their audition in front of the selection committee, but a stroke of luck/devastating events change things in a way that leaves Lars and Sigrit’s band Fire Saga as the only possible option for Iceland. The duo travels to Edinburgh, Scotland to prepare for the big show, but conflict heightens as the show gets closer and closer, emotions between the band members gets complicated, and a singer from Russia, Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), begins to wedge his way between them.
Eurovision Song Contest does sport some legitimately funny running jokes.
Will Ferrell has made some totally humorless films in the past (and I’m not just talking about his dramas), but it should be recognized that Eurovision Song Contest definitely has its moments and big laughs – a couple of which are running jokes that at the very least break up spells of frustration. One of the best bits is inspired by the fact that more than half of Icelanders believe in magical elves, and Sigrit is a devout believer that they are at the wheel of Fire Saga’s fate. Singer Demi Lovato also has a fun supporting role as Katiana, a talented Icelandic performer who is the favorite to represent the country and has an arc that goes in a completely different direction than expected. The problem is that what we’re discussing here amounts to about three total minutes of material in a movie that sports a two-hour-plus runtime.
There are so many opportunities for jokes in Eurovision Song Contest, but instead there’s… nothing.
The standout issue Eurovision Song Contest faces is that it’s too reliant on the audience finding just the basics of the actual event hilarious. The problem is that while it’s definitely goofy, it’s not “Summer Comedy” funny. There is a strange kind of devotion to authenticity and reality, and it amounts to the movie lacking bite and creative energy. Given Will Ferrell’s history enlisting past collaborators and friends to join in on his antics (the big fight sequences in the Anchorman movies being the prime example), you’d be excused expecting that this film might have special cameos playing members of bands from other countries doing outrageous performances… but Dan Stevens is really the only other recognizable face that takes the stage.
Beyond the lack of effort it suggests, that’s fine by itself – but outside of Fire Saga’s songs, none of the music performed by other bands seems like it was written to be funny, and there isn’t anything special about their stage acts. The good news is that it sets a low bar for ridiculousness when Lars and Sigrit’s time in the spotlight comes, but that low bar ultimately proves too easy to clear as all the film comes up with is a tired gag involving a giant hamster wheel and a long scarf. There are so many avenues to take for comedy, and Eurovision Song Contest opts for none of them.
Rachel McAdams actually steals the film away from Will Ferrell.
Without the best material to work with, the performers can only do so much in the film, but Rachel McAdams does deserve special notice in the film. Eurovision Song Contest further suffers from the fact that Lars isn’t a particularly likable protagonist (primarily because the bossiness in his drive to achieve his goals isn’t balanced out by real talent and the audience’s desire to see him succeed), but McAdams’ Sigrit is wonderfully earnest, and that earnestness does translate to laughs (especially her aforementioned belief in elves). It’s disappointing that she doesn’t actually provide the singing voice for her character, which is noticeable mostly because it’s so clearly Ferrell singing as Lars, but she’s the best part of the film.
Will Ferrell has a big screen legacy that includes some true modern classics – including Anchorman, Step Brothers and Zoolander – but he’s also capable of making exceedingly mediocre stuff like Blades Of Glory and Semi-Pro, and it’s in the ranks of the latter in which Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga falls. Unless you’re fully aware of the real event and find it fall-on-the-floor funny, this is a case of failed capitalization, and while good for a few laughs, overall not worth the 123 minute investment.