Synopsis – When aspiring musicians Lars and Sigrit are given the opportunity to represent their country at the world’s biggest song competition, they finally have a chance to prove that any dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for.
My Take – To be honest, I do not think of myself as a Will Ferrell fan, mainly as I find his films swinging very widely between hit or miss. Though Anchorman (and its sequel), Step Brothers, and Talladega Nights hold the high titles of being modern comedy classics, on the other hand his decision to star and produce recent films like Holmes & Watson and Daddy’s Home 2 did end up leaving a bad after taste.
But I do understand why most his films work, as his characters, usually earnest buffoons, live with a genuine belief that what they’re doing is special, making them sort of an underdog, and the general audience always loves to root for a loser, especially the one who can also deliver genuine laughs.
Hence, it made absolute sense that he would choose to star in a film about the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual European competition which is apparently widely known for its high camp and larger-than-life spectacular performances. An event which was cancelled for the first time this year in its sixty four year history due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While it’s easy to imagine a typical film studio declaring the concept just too weird or its premise too specific to land, thankfully, Netflix provided Will Ferrell (who also wrote and produced this) with enough leeway to make sure the end product is a sweeping cinematic effort, with the director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) taking in dramatic Icelandic vistas and staging several full-blown musical numbers amid all the comic antics.
Made in cooperation with Eurovision, it’s the rare work of branding that manages to both honor its subject and provide the much needed comedy escapism. Not only is it absolutely hilarious, it is also filled with enough heart to appreciate all the stellar performances.
Set in Husavik, a tiny fishing village of Iceland, the story follows Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), who have been friends for decades, fronting a musical outfit dubbed Fire Saga, with dreams of winning the Eurovision contest. But all this years they have frustratingly only been laughingstocks and stuck playing down at the local pub were the patrons even refuse to hear any of their original numbers.
When they’re not working on their music, Lars is a meter maid whose very handsome father Erick Erickssong (Pierce Brosnan) deems him an embarrassment, while Sigrit, who has also been in love with Lars all this time, is a teacher who believes in elves. But as faith would have it, when all the talented musicians in Iceland die in a freak accident, Lars and Sigrit, despite being earlier ousted, find themselves becoming the Icelandic representatives in Eurovision.
However, once at the competition, the introduction of fellow contestants Russia’s Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens) and Greece’s Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut) in their lives leads to sudden complications between the two, hence putting a huge question mark on the status of Fire Saga’ destiny.
Yes, the film flirts with toilet humor and brings back the leads-mistaken-for-siblings gold mine, but it does so a bit of fun and escapism, and a bunch of good laughs and cringe-worthy moments, leaving me in a little lighter in spirit. Director David Dobkin who has directed hit comedies, like Wedding Crashers, and a slew of music videos, blends his two skill sets well. Though, the film has its clunky stretches, and Ferrell’s script, written with Andrew Steele, could have been a little tighter, yet the story always makes some sort of sense, because director Dobkin and Ferrell understand the crucial balance of absurdity and triumphant confidence required here. A combination best defined by Ferrell’s decision to sing his own vocals.
Though the romance between Lars and Sigrid doesn’t quite ring right, the running joke that people wrongly think they’re siblings is funny, and yet they do kind of seem more like siblings than a plausible couple. Still, one can’t help but root for whatever semi-creepy version of happiness they’re seeking.
However without a doubt the most winning aspect of the film is how catchy the tunes actually are, especially Lars and Sigrit’s main jam, Double Trouble, which is startling for any film that isn’t a strict musical. To that end, it recalls films like Mamma Mia! and The Greatest Showman, which just ooze entertainment throughout its run time. It’s a point best made by a sing-along halfway through the film, in which Lars and Sigrit end up at a massive house party along with past, real-life Eurovision contestants like Conchita Wurst, John Lundvik, Bilal Hassani, and Netta. The singers harmonize as they blend songs together in the kind of mash-up that musicals could only dream of. They’re all cheesy, glittery songs, but the moment is a huge triumphant.
Sure, at 123 minutes, it drags a bit, especially in the second act, when the musical numbers slowly stop to cease and the will-they-won’t-they drama begins to come out in full-force. Still, the film never stops being compelling, as it embraces that wholehearted earnestness, and the result is an endearingly silly but never cynical comedy with songs as memorable as anything that’s been performed in a real-life contest, at least from what I have seen.
Performance wise, both Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams are fun to watch. The character of Lars is familiar territory for Ferrell, and expectedly he seems very comfortable here despite the accent, however, it is McAdams, a great dramatic actress who surprised with her funny bone in 2018’s Game Night, who comes as a terrific comic foil. Just as winning is Dan Stevens’ performance as he is character is theatrical as they come. With his song, Lion of Love, involving a lot of suggestive movement and shirt-ripping, Stevens leans fully into the preening, wiggling his eyebrows and winking like some kind of flirting machine.
In supporting roles, Pierce Brosnan, Melissanthi Mahut, Demi Lovato, Mikael Persbrandt, and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson manage to stand out. Graham Norton too makes a hilarious cameo. On the whole, ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ is a wild and truly hilarious comedy filled with fun musical numbers and pitch-perfect comic performances.
Directed – David Dobkin
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 123 minutes