When Eurovision Song Contest became popular in the states, it was described as “American Idol on acid,” a pre-pitched comedy if there ever was one. The show featured a singing turkey, a German Genghis Khan and enough glitter and disco to keep millions of people watching. It’s an event so bonkers that we now have a Will Ferrell movie about it.
In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong, an Icelandic dreamer who, along with his singing partner Sigrit Ericksdotter (Rachel McAdams), believes he is the songbird of his generation. Despite the duo’s lack of success – their band Fire Saga is struggling – Lars keeps his head high and his spirits higher. He’s your typical Ferrell character: a man-child who never lets anything get him down.
Imagine if Step Brothers had been about a 50-year-old living with his dad (Pierce Bronson) in Iceland, and you’ll get something like Eurovision Song Contest. Though Lars is a more talented singer than Brennan Huff, Iceland doesn’t think he’s Eurovision material. He and Sigrit’s warm melodies melt their snowy surroundings, but Fire Saga’s only chance at getting a shot is if a freak accident were to happen. Cut to a boat explosion that sinks all other Iceland contestants and the underdogs are off to Eurovision in Scotland.
McAdams and Ferrell, unsurprisingly, are in harmony here. Together they affect a richly subversive, infectiously catchy charm, heightened by their colorful costumes and Icelandic accents. Their songs even sound great. But a few things hold them back from synthesizing romantically. First, romance ruins bands and second, they might be brother and sister. “We’re probably not,” Lars argues.
The biggest roadblock arrives in Scotland though, where Russian singer Alexander Lemtov’s (Dan Stevens) ferocious glare pounces on Sigrit’s gentle features. “Beware of that guy. He is a sex player” warns Lars. Humorously, a Greek diva has her eyes on Lars, too. Before you know it, they all party at Alexander’s mansion with hundreds of Eurovision regulars, belting out classics like “Believe” and “Waterloo” in MGM-musical fashion. The camera joins in on the fun as well, dancing with extras and bobbing to the beat. It’s kinda dumb. But also lots and lots of fun.
Launching today on Netflix, Eurovision arrives with little buzz or advertising, which usually spells trouble. Not in this case, though. Director David Dobkin has had his ups (including Wedding Crashers) and downs, but here he coasts on good vibes and better tunes. Don’t be surprised if you enjoy the Eurovision music. Alexander’s operatic “Lion for Love” is a standout, while Fire Saga impressively blends Icelandic hymns with modern choreography. In one sequence, Lars runs on a giant hamster wheel that seems to be floating in midair. It isn’t, though, and we find that out the hard way when he’s sent rolling into the stands Buster Keaton-style.
Somehow, Fire Saga survives a series of similar disasters and ends up in the finals. “Who would have guessed Iceland would make it this far?” asks an announcer. Everybody watching, obviously. Much of the story is telegraphed, but shocks and surprises are not the point. Instead, Dobkin takes an old school approach to comedy. All that matters here is goofs and getting the girl. And the movie really belongs to Ferrell and McAdams, who make the most of their character’s quirky personas, pushing the physical comedy to extremes while remaining grounded in reality.
With a hopeful heart and nonjudgmental mind, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga weaves love, acceptance and why it’s important to dream big into a narrative bursting with wit and warmth. Some aspects work better than others (Bronson’s estranged father is just plain cold). Others, though, strike just the right chord. Here’s a movie that takes a ridiculous contest and humanizes it and its participants. By the end, you may not want to wear a onesie while singing ABBA on stage, but you’ll care for those who do.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga is bursting with wit, warmth and laughs, and is well worth a watch on Netflix.