Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is overlong but makes for a worthwhile investment based on a kind spirit, funny songs and a dynamite supporting turn from Dan Stevens.
I must start this review with an admission – as an American, I only have the vaguest awareness of the actual Eurovision Song Contest. Generally, I understand it to be something like an even kitschier American Idol and I know that Celine Dion comes from it, but that is about it. So I came into this movie without any particular expectations about what the titular competition would entail.
Here, we see Will Ferrell (Anchorman) and Rachel McAdams (Game Night) paired as a will they-won’t they tandem of singers who dream of someday winning the Eurovision Song Contest. After a brief opening vignette that sees the young version of Ferrell’s Lars Erickssong captivated by ABBA on the actual Eurovision, and McAdams’ Sigrit captivated by his passion for the show, we flash forward and charge ahead into the try outs for Iceland’s national representative at the singing competition. As this is a Will Ferrell comedy, shenanigans ensue that ensure our less talented heroes end up at the competition.
Upon arrival at their first practice, they fast meet their assumed rival: Dan Stevens. Stevens, dressed like an 80s hair band spoof of Siegfried and Roy with an allergy to shirt buttons, immediately steals the movie with an energetic blast of life song performance. He quite literally prowls around the stage while surrounded by gyrating shirtless male dancers taking the time to mug for each audience member. Playing what appears to be the child of a Russian oligarch, Stevens’ Alexander Lemtov owns castles filled with giant, well-proportioned nude statues of himself and every manner of fancy champagne flute. It is hard to recognize the reserved actor from Downton Abbey in the blissful lunacy of this performance. Throughout the film, Stevens remains incredibly engaged: even in the background of shots, he is always doing something, be it growling at passersby or preening in his wardrobe. It is a captivating sort of manic energy that leaves each scene without him feeling just a bit flat.
The last time director David Dobkin worked with Will Ferrell, we found the thespian living in his mother’s basement and espousing the virtues of funerals to pick up women in Wedding Crashers. What most surprised about Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga was the film’s sweet, nearly tender, tone. There are no real villains here, just a bunch of weirdos who like to make music. This gonzo inclusive spirit is best reflected in an early “song-a-long” which sees all the show’s competitors engage in a delirious, hilarious singing montage through Lemtov’s castle. Numerous actual Eurovision stars cameo as Dobkin’s camera moves deliriously from performer to performer, as the music shifts across genres – it is a burst of wacky energy that shows a communal spirit between all the competitors and immediately undercuts any real sense of tension between the various singers.
The movie never really generates any actual tension at all, but this appears by design. The plot is pleasantly predictable (hm… I wonder if we will hear the song McAdams has been working on in secret before the film’s credits run…) and the plot remains relative low stakes. Even the romantic speed bumps between our leads amount to little more than comedic distractions.
The most fraught relationship in the film is between Ferrell and his dad, played with rakish charm by Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan, the James Bond of my youth, has always been a bit bland as the heroic type. He works best undercutting his good looks and leaning into a sort of scuzzy sleaze. The deviant hitman from The Matador or the nefarious politician from The Ghost Writer make for a better use of his talents. Here, he plays an Icelandic sexual god: a fisherman who has bedded nearly every woman in town and is oft seen in throwaway sight gags cavorting with women decades younger. His disapproval of his son’s passion for singing makes for an obvious role, but Brosnan elevates the part with scummy charm.
Eurovision Song Contest feels about 25 minutes too long, at a running time of over two hours. But in these times of quarantine, it is nice to have a surprisingly kind, good-hearted comedy to serve as a distraction. High art, it is not, but it will do.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga is available to watch on Netflix.
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