REVIEW: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” (2020)

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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.

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Photo Courtesy of Netflix

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.

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Photo Courtesy of Netflix

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

3-stars

17 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” (2020)

  1. I didn’t read all of the review but enough to know I want to see it. I’ve been watching Rake, which I adore, just started S4 of 5 seasons. Once finished (perish the thought) I will give this one a watch. Will Ferrell is in a class by himself. Zany but deadpan at the same time.

    • Anxious to hear your thoughts. For me Ferrell is very hit-or-miss. This one hits more than misses. For me McAdams is the real star. She is such an underrated comedic actress.

    • I was completely expected to give a resounding NOPE, but it’s actually not bad. McAdams is a blast and Dan Stevens had me constantly cranking up. You have to wade through some really lame stuff, but the ending makes it worth it. I was surprised.

      • I would rather scoop my eyes out with a spoon than watch the real Eurovision let alone a lame movie about it. Also Will Ferrel, meh. Also if I was Icelandic I’d be well naffed off, if Iceland people were black there’d be hell on.

  2. I had this on last night more as background than really watching it, but I did have the same thought you did about Rachel McAdam, very good, and oddly, I first started to think that she was very talented when I watched “Game Night” a couple of years ago. I don’t think of myself as Ferrell fan, but he has several I like, and as you say, the absurdist aspect is what I like, like the street fight in Anchorman, just completely goofy.

    • I’m with you on Ferrell. It was “Midnight in Paris” the opened my eyes to McAdams’ comic talents. She’s really great. I also got a kick out of Dan Stevens. Talk about absurdity!

  3. I’ve seen 30 minutes of the film so far (and I’m going to try and get to the rest) but so far it’s made me laugh. Especially with any moment involving Rachel McAdams who I think is an absolute natural when it comes to comedies as I laughed at the scene involving the home of the invisible elves.

    • You nail it. McAdams is such an undervalued comedic actress. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on the rest of the movie. It gets caught up in its own stupidity and takes a few pretty cheap and lazy turns. But it lands really well in the end and I was surprised at how much I laughed considering it is a Will Ferrell movie.

  4. The Eurovision is still a mystery to me. Maybe it’s because I’m Italian and in Italy no one knows what it is (I actually found out about it when I started living abroad)…

    If this movie is as silly as the Eurovision contest, and judging from your review it is, I’m not sure I want to watch it!

    • Ha! I’m even worse. I’m not sure I had ever heard of it before this movie! Still, I do give it a recommendation even though I can understand why someone would give it a pass. I think what sealed it for me is the ending and the great message it has. Oh, and Rachel McAdams who is really good.

  5. Hmmm… ‘surprisingly tolerable’ doesn’t quite sell it to me, what with there being so many other films to watch, but I’ll add it to the maybe pile 😀

    • Ha! It’s not the most ringing endorsement, but I admit to be pleasantly surprised. It’s mainly due to McAdams and Stevens. I also love the ending and feel-good message. There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours. 😁

  6. Good review!

    Usually, leading men are given younger leading ladies in order to make them look younger too. This movie starts with a flashback in the early 70s where the protagonists are under 10, so they’re around 50 in present time. Are they trying to make Rachel look 10 years older, while still making Will look good?

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