What looks like a throwback to zany 2000’s style comedy winds up being a more measured and sincere experience.
Eurovision Song Contest – The Story of Fire Saga (that’s a mouthful!) is a weird movie. Surprisingly, it’s not weird for all of the reasons I assumed it would be. Starring and co-written by Will Ferrell, and directed by the guy behind Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus, I expected a Talladega Nights style comedy – brash characters, crass slapstick, and rapid-fire jokes. Instead, Eurovision winds up playing a song for a mellower audience. It is certainly an odd, but enjoyable, experience.
Eurovision Song Contest – The Story of Fire Saga (2020)
Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) have dreamed of winning the Eurovision music contest since they were children. Living in a sleepy fishing town in Iceland, which has never won the top spot of the long running contest, their odds are long. Fate, an unscrupulous promoter, several freak accidents, and possibly elves all intervene to get Lars and Sigrit’s duo, Fire Saga, to the big stage.
What It Ain’t.
Based on the trailer, you’d assume Eurovision to be a return to form for Ferrell, back to the glory days of irreverent, man-child inspired comedy from the early 2000’s. The trailer plays up much of the film’s sillier antics, and the film opens with a Funny or Die worthy duet with Farrell and McAdams dressed as glam Vikings, belting out a hilarious ode to the mythic Volcano Man.
Eurovision does contain elements of the juvenile comedies that made Ferrell famous. The rise, fall, and redemption of a credulous Lars certainly feels Ricky Bobby -esque, and several segments of the contest gave me Zoolander flashbacks. As the film goes on, though, you get the sense that these are more wistful callbacks than an actual attempt to recreate that decade’s comedic style.
What It Is.
Sigrit and Lars’ journey winds up being more an elegy than a grand Viking epic. The central motif is of self acceptance via letting go of childish fantasy. Consequently, most of Fire Saga’s songs are aching and soulful instead of raucous and bombastic. We never really return to the silliness of that first song…though Dan Stevens gives a very game effort with his preening songs as the contest’s odds-on favorite prima donna.
While Ferrell became famous for playing man-child characters (and Lars and Sigrit certainly have flashes of naivete that border on childishness,) Eurovision feels like an attempt to show the end of that way of living. Childhood ends. You can’t be Frank the Tank your whole life, living in a shabby pantomime of faded dreams.
The use of the Eurovision Song Contest is inspired. It’s an international contest that’s kept chugging along since 1956, weathering the challenges from myriad waves of imitators and fad contests. While it’s modern trappings could fool you into thinking it’s Europe’s The Voice, it remains remarkably true to its roots while absorbing modern trends.
The film reflects this as Hip Hop, Death Metal, and Funk pair off, or frequently blend into, modernized Disco, Opera, and Soul. It works as an astute metaphor for Lars and Sigrit’s growth – as well as providing a great collection of songs and performances from both actors and actual Eurovision artists.
Ja Ja, Ding Dong.
The blending of old and new, from the music to the comedy to the themes, does lead to a bit of unevenness. The scope of the project sets itself a lot of notes to hit, and sometimes you can hear the film’s voice crack. Attempts to be silly hamper the story in places, other times the somber story makes a potentially hilarious bit feel off. Trying to cover so many elements can mean not every element gets taken to completion.
The story also suffers in places from over-familiarity. The film hews close enough to a typical musical competition story to feel a bit formulaic at points, and not in the self-aware style of similar comedies like Walk Hard or Spinal Tap, where blowing up the formula is most of the pleasure.
On balance, I applaud the ambition of Eurovision. A genuine attempt is made to call back to the comedy of Ferrell’s heyday, yet to force it to grow up. It doesn’t always excel, but it’s certainly not from lack of trying. The cast is strong, the music is frequently on-point, and film has its own energy to set it apart.
When it does hit the right notes, it’s a blast. The film can be every bit as funny, in spots, as classic 2000’s comedies. It can also tell a more mature story than those films. The final song number actually got me misty-eyed. Not a bad little trick for a film I expected to be ludicrous singing Vikings for most of its run time!