Will Ferrell works in absurdity the way Leonardo da Vinci worked in oils or Michelangelo in marble. It’s his chosen means of artistic expression, and like paint across a canvas, nuttiness on the screen is his creative language. Unfortunately for Ferrell there haven’t been many Mona Lisas or Davids. And “masterpiece” isn’t a word I would normally associate with his movies. Yet still his special brand of “art” finds an audience and occasionally hits its mark.
His latest is the Netflix Original “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”, a surprisingly tolerable comedy that sees Ferrell working his routine while his co-stars steal the show. As with many Ferrell films the concept is ludicrous which is a part of its charm. It also has him playing a character we’ve seen him do before – a lumbering lummox￼￼￼￼￼ with good intentions but seriously low brain wattage.￼￼
Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong, a middle-aged man still living with his father in Húsavík, Iceland. Since he was a child all he has wanted to do was represent his country in the Eurovision Song Contest. For us uniformed westerners, it’s an international song competition that has been held annually since 1956 (due to the COVID-19 outbreak this year’s event was cancelled for the first time since its creation). Whether this film aims to be a parody or a celebration, I’m still trying to figure it out.
Much to the chagrin of his grumpy, disapproving father (Pierce Brosnan), Lars’ only goal in life is to win Eurovision with his music partner and childhood friend Sigrit (Rachel McAdams). Of course it comes at the expense of the normal things that come with growing up – getting a job, making a living, getting married, starting a family. His tunnel-vision also keeps him from seeing that his infinitely more talented co-singer loves him. Then again she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. After all, she does believe in wish-granting mountain elves.
But I digress, Lars and Sigrit enter their band Fire Saga into a national competition to determine Iceland’s submission to the Eurovision Song Contest. If they (by some unthinkable miracle or cataclysmic tragedy) win, then it’s off to Edinburgh to compete against Europe’s best. As you probably guessed Fire Saga is pretty terrible thanks to Lars and his ludicrous costume designs and stage gimmicks. So wacky mishaps and a crazy turn-of-events or two are all but guaranteed.
The film is directed by David Dobkin who previously worked with McAdams and Ferrell on “Wedding Crashers”. Dobkin made his name directing music videos and can see it in the film’s numerous musical numbers. Most notably is a “song-along” at a party stacked with cameos from past Eurovision participants. It’s a goofy mix of silliness and song that weirdly fits the overall tone.
While Ferrell may be tromping familiar ground, he manages to make some of these roles work because of the indubitable earnestness of his characters. You never doubt their sincerity regardless of how stupid they may seem. But it’s McAdams who ultimately steals the show. People tend to forget that she possesses impeccable comic timing. Just look at her work in “Midnight in Paris” and more recently “Game Night”. She never overdoes a reaction or underplays a gag. She’s terrific. And I have to mention Dan Stevens playing a hedonistic, over-charged Russian playboy who is hysterically over-the-top in every scene. I challenge you not to laugh at his antics.
Unfortunately, like so many modern comedies “Eurovision” doesn’t know when to stop. It gets bogged down in the second half and its two-hour plus runtime could have used a 20-minute trim. Also Ferrell (who co-wrote the script with Andrew Steele) just can’t resist tired and lazy jokes about male privates and patently dumb lines like “Let’s go sex nuts.” These are the moments when you can see the movie working. The film also suffers from an underwritten love story (I’m still trying to figure out what Sigrit sees in Lars) and a throwaway villain who makes no sense whatsoever.
Yet the movie still gets its hooks in you. For every scattered eye-roll moment there are two scenes that will bring a smile or a laugh. And any opportunity to see McAdams once again doing straight comedy is a major plus. Its warm and optimistic ending makes for a good payoff and I would give it one full star just for Molly Sandén’s gorgeous song “Husavik (My Home Town)”. While it’s far from great, “Eurovision” is a light and surprisingly entertaining counter for much of what passes for comedies these days.
VERDICT – 3 STARS