What the world needs right now is a big, dumb, completely harmless comedy. The meeting of funnyman Will Ferrell and the subject of the Eurovision Song Contest seems like the perfect formula to satisfy that requirement, although in execution, the Netflix film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga doesn’t fully capitalise on its promise of over-the-top silliness.
The inane premise is certainly there. Since childhood, Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) has clung to the dream of representing Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest. While the rest of his tiny fishing village, including his gruff father Erick (Pierce Brosnan), has dismissed his ambitions, Lars has a lifelong supporter in Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams), his best friend and band mate – who also just so happens to have been in love with Lars for years. Their group Fire Saga isn’t terrible, but they have the worst luck with live performances, so it takes a freak accident for Lars and Sigrit to become Iceland’s representatives at the 2020 Eurovision Finals. Dropped into a very tough competition as laughing stock underdogs, the pair start assessing what they want from their music careers and relationship.
Eurovision Song Contest tries to be to the real-life cheesetastic song contest what Talladega Nights is to NASCAR, and Blades of Glory is to competitive figure skating. It just doesn’t quite reach the same levels of absurdity. This is probably because of how much screen time is devoted to Lars and Sigrit’s off-stage lives instead of the pop music ridiculousness that Eurovision is famous for.
Make no mistake, the overblown musical numbers – with titles like Lion of Love, and Volcano Man – are one of the best things about Eurovision Song Contest. Even if you’re from a country like the US and South Africa, which have never been indoctrinated into Eurovision’s cult popularity, you’ll get it in these moments. On stage is when Eurovision Song Contest is free to let rip; to go to extremes the audience expects of this kind of dumb, competitive Ferrell comedy. There just aren’t enough of these scenes.
Overall, Eurovision Song Contest feels slightly restrained. Given cameo appearances by several real-life Eurovision winners, and other prominent performers, that makes sense. You’re unlikely to appear in something that shreds what you’re synonymous with. Even if that “what” is famously ludicrous to begin with. Eurovision Song Contest has a definite whiff of promotional intentions.
The film is also perhaps a bit too nice. The Eurovision event is associated with brutally bitchy commentary, yet the Eurovision movie keeps its satire largely toothless. Instead, with Sigrit’s arc especially, you find a softer tale of dreamers overcoming detractors, and finding their most powerful voice in artistic authenticity. Unsurprisingly, it falls to the ever-underrated McAdams to strike both the film’s comedic and heartfelt beats, although, for the record, most of the time McAdams’s vocals were blended with Swedish singer My Marianne.
There aren’t even any boo-hiss villains to rally against in the film. The one figure who would classify as that has limited screen time, while rival Eurovision performers, like Dan Stevens’s smarmy Russian crooner and Melissanthi “The voice of Kassandra” Mahut’s sexy Greek star are swiftly established as self-occupied and calculating, but not particularly malicious.
Still, while the two-hour Eurovision Song Contest isn’t start-to-finish hilarity, there are enough bright spots (typically the songs), memorable lines, and a running gag about the importance of elves to Icelanders, to make the film watchable.
It’s just a little disappointing that Eurovision Song Contest took a subject that was already a bit of a joke, and it didn’t result in something sharper and tighter. The movie is amiable, comfy and quirky, much like the cardigans that the film’s villagers wear, but that’s it. It gently prods and pokes fun without causing any harm. Then again, that’s probably enough for most viewers fatigued by the endless drama of 2020.
Last Updated: July 2, 2020