A respectful homage to Eurovision that's plagued some unfunny moments.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
When I first heard that Will Ferrell wanted to make a comedy about Eurovision, it sounded like a Herculean task. After all, how do you make fun of Eurovision when Eurovision is already so… out there?
If you're new to this, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual international music competition with participants from primarily European countries (Australia is allowed to partake in this since 2015). This is the world's stage of really over-the-top and camp performances. From power ballads to GWAR-like antics, almost anything goes like Finland's own metal band, Lordi's winning act in 2006…
… the unfortunate off-key act by UK's Jemini…
… or this performance by Conchita Wurst's "Rise Like a Phoenix". Such range, such spectacle, such luscious locks.
So, how do you make a comedy about something that's already the height of absurdity? Easy, you don't make fun of it. Will Ferrell is a huge fan of Eurovision after his wife introduced it to him years ago. Ferrell and his c0-writer, Andrew Steele, leaves out the ridicule of Eurovision and instead leaves the comedy on the shoulders of Ferrell and company.
Ferrell relives his standard-issue character—the adult in arrested development—and takes it upon himself to be the comedic foil. All the pratfalls, the ungainliness and stupid antics fall on Ferrell as he flails his way out of this paper bag of a situation.
Rachel McAdams is a lovely counterpoint to Ferrell. Earnest and fully-invested in her role (her character believes in elves!) by the film's climax, when she starts to sing, you believe in her wholeheartedly.
An unexpected bright note is Dan Stevens who plays the flamboyant and totally not gay Alexander Lemtov. It's clear that Stevens enjoys bringing out the bombastic and sensual nature of Lemtov; he's charming and conniving without being malicious.
Filmed in location in Iceland and Scotland, the places make for an enticing front for postcards with 'WISH YOU WERE HERE' stencilled on it. The fishing town where it is filmed flaunts the picturesque snow-capped mountain range and the roiling sleet-stained sea.
And the soundtrack honestly slaps. Jaja Ding Dong, the song that Fire Saga hates to play is an earwig. And the song, "Húsavík" that McAdams sings at the film's climax (ghostsung by My Marianne) is a very clever narrative cap to her character who longs to leave her small town but realises that, given the whole world, she'd rather be back home in Húsavík. Never mind that there was an orchestra ready to play along to an unpractised draft of a song—disbelief be suspended—"Húsavík" will move you and lift your spirits.
What we didn't like
Some of the jokes didn't land or it was hammered to death; you can sorta see the punchline from a mile away. If it weren't for the music and the splendour of Iceland, it might make for a blah film. And the casting of Will Ferrell… look, I like him. I love any skits that Ferrell was in when he was a featured player at Saturday Night Live and in few of his movies early in his career but the man-child role is wearing kinda thin for me. It's funny to cast a man in his 50s as a young adult but after a while, it starts to drag.
Would the film be a different beast with, let's say, Andy Samberg as Lars Erickssong? Maybe. But Samberg fits the role more keenly and could imbue this movie with his own comedic sensibilities.
What to look out for
The Song Along portion of the movie where all of Eurovision's favourites like Wurst, Leena and Bilal Hassani appear.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is out now on Netflix.