A film review by Craig J. Koban August 8, 2020

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: 

THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA jj
˝

2020, PG-13, 123 mins.

Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong  /  Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir  /  Pierce Brosnan as Erick Erickssong  /  Dan Stevens as Alexander Lemtov  /  Demi Lovato as Katiana  /  Jamie Demetriou as Kevin Swain  /  Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson as Johans

Directed by David Dobkin  /  Written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele

ORIGINAL FILM

Despite having one of the most nonsensical titles of recent memory, the latest Netflix original film EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (sorry, it sounds like a HUNGER GAMES spin-off) is a comedy set within the real life titular international competition that (quickly checks notes) introduced the world to the likes of ABBA and Celine Dion (arguably the most well known winners).  

Will Ferrell was apparently introduced to Eurovision by his Swedish wife in the late 90s, which prompted him to envision a feature film comedy built around it.  The best thing I will say about (takes a deep breath) EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA is that I enjoyed its unique brand of bizarre lunacy, not to mention that leads Ferrell and Rachel McAdams seem very equal to the challenge of harnessing all of its incessant oddness.  Unfortunately, the film is basically a one joke, five minute SNL sketch extended to a punishingly long, endurance testing two-plus hours running time, inducing viewer fatigue very early on with no contingency plans for recovery. 

The setup here, though, is quite cute and engaging.  In an amusing prologue set in the mid-70s we meet future Icelandic singing duo Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (McAdams), but the former child is sad, reclusive, and seems unwilling to be social with anyone, which greatly concerns his recently widowed father (Pierce Brosnan).  However, when a Eurovision Song Contest appears on the TV and ABBA makes their debut belting out their iconic "Waterloo" Lars is instantly smitten with the group and breaks out into spontaneous singing and dancing in unison (much to his grumpy father's chagrin).  We then flash forward several decades to the present, and when we meet back up with Lars he has had a lifelong artistic connection with Sigrit, with both of them trying to hone their talents together to break into Eurovision and abandon their soul crushing day jobs.  One of the more logic defying questions that the film fails to address is how the relatively youthful McAdams is supposed to plausibly pass as a woman in her fifties (if I'm doing the math correct) and that she's supposed to be the same relative age as Ferrell's Erik despite the actor being a decade and a half her senior in real life.  

Yeah...never mind. 

 

 

Anyhoo', this ambitious, but somewhat talentless Iceland duo makes up the group Fire Saga, and via some extraordinarily convenient plotting they find themselves not only competing in the preliminary qualifying rounds of Eurovision Song Contest, but they also miraculously manage to jump the ranks to fill an empty roster spot for the final showdown to attain top prize.  Predictably, the pair experience one on-stage embarrassment after another, mostly because Erik - in pure man-child Will Ferrell-ian fashion - is a hopelessly clueless amateur with delusions of grandeur, and along the way they face stiff competition, especially in the form of the hunky Russian singer superstar Alexander (Dan Stevens from DOWNTON ABBEY, very funny here), who seems to be developing eyes for the easy on the eyes Sigrit, much to Erik's petty jealousy.  Being a complete and utter moron, though, Erik is incapable of understanding that Sigrit actually loves him, which complicates their personal and business relationship - and any chance to win Eurovision Song Contest - immensely. 

If there's one thing that EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA does reasonably and thanklessly well it's in how Ferrell (as co-writer here) manages to bridge the awkward gap between mocking this competition and holding it up for easy hero worship levels.  Even with its silly tone, this comedy is never mean spirited as a distracting parody. EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is more of a loving homage that just happens to contain a lot of ridiculous elements, which leads to some endearing laughs early on, especially as we witness Erik and Sigrit play in one dive after another in hopes of nabbing their first big break (it should be noted that Ferrell does his own mediocre singing here, whereas the more talented Sigrit is actually voiced in song by Swedish Pop singer Molly Sanden with McAdams lip synching her).  Ferrell has played umpteen iterations of these types of characters before with his own unique brand of reliable and likeable idiocy, albeit this time with a hysterically awful accent.  He's amusing when required to be here as his doofus with a dream, but the real scene stealer is McAdams, who manages to play all of the absurd broadness that's required of her and somehow make her character come off as authentically sincere and sweet natured.  If you haven't seen her in the terribly underrated GAME NIGHT from last year then you're missing out; McAdams is one of those rare double threats that can segue between drama and comedy with relative ease. 

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST also has its share of wonderfully engaging and infectiously madcap musical vignettes, especially in an opening dream sequences featuring Fire Saga performing "Volcano Man" all decked out in Viking garb, face paint, and a fantastical backdrop that would put LORD OF THE RINGS to shame (granted, it's revealed to be all in their minds).  There's a later sequence in the middle of the film that features one great big group sing along at a party that fluidly transitions from one pop tune to the next, like Madonna's "Ray of Light" to Cher's "Believe", and all featuring real life Eurovision stars.  It's a giddily enjoyable montage that sort of perfectly harnesses the whole vibe that this comedy is aiming for: Joyous celebration of music, but with a cheeky wink-wink to the audience that it's never taking itself too seriously.  There are other moments of hilarity, like Erik's insistence on a pure white jump suit stage costume with oversized codpiece, or his  chance meeting with a bunch of idiotically selfish American tourists, and a running gag as to his real relationship with Sigrit (everyone thinks they are brother and sister, but he always replies with a "We're not...probably not").  Equally funny is Sigrit's religious affiliation to elves and her steadfast belief that they actually grant wish requests when appeased.  And let's not forget about Dan Steven's superbly preposterous turn as his meticulously well coiffed and over tanned Russian mega celeb that's an antagonistic macho man stereotype of pure comedic steroids here.   

Again, all of this is good stuff.  There's the making of a side-splitting musical comedy here with EUROVISION SONG CONTEST, but great comedies need momentum and pacing, and this one is seriously and sorely lacking in it.  Director David Dobkin (who previously worked with both Ferrell and McAdams on the great raunchy mid-2000s comedy WEDDING CRASHERS) displays virtually no editorial discipline here at all.  At a gag inducing 123 minutes, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST never once makes a credible case for its existence beyond what should have been a more pleasingly lean and tight 80-90 minutes.  When the film works it works splendidly, but there are awfully long and terminally unfunny stretches contained within that grind the proceedings to a screeching halt, making for a picture of preventable and gluttonous bloat.  It's really all too bad, because there was a lot to admire and laugh at (and with) in EUROVISION SONG CONTEST, especially when it comes to the novelty of its premise, a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments, an invitingly madcap tone, some deliciously inspired and sly music numbers, and the agreeable pairing of Ferrell and McAdams (to be fair, this is probably the Ferrell's funniest comedy in maybe a decade and a far cry better then the recent and loathsomely awful HOLMES AND WATSON).  Regretably, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST never once deserves or earns its watch checking running time, which left a bad taste in my mouth.  This film felt like a cheesy music video that's entertaining in dosages, but just goes on and on for an infinity with no apparent end in sight. 

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