I haven’t watched a movie with Will Ferrell in a leading role since Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, which came out in 2013. I can’t state exactly why my wife and I passed on seeing Daddy’s Home or its sequel. Or Get Hard. To me, it looked like Ferrell’s lovable doofus characters were being made the butt of violent jokes. I know this sounds ridiculous, but while his comedy trades in an innocent, child-like stupidity, most of the time there is an intelligence about it. For example, what Ferrell does as Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby or Frank in Old School works both as comedy and as meta-comedy at the same time. The jokes are obvious and sly at the same time. You can see the wheels going around in his mind while he performs. When Ferrell’s schtick (for lack of a better word) works, it’s because we can tell he put thought into what he is doing. When it doesn’t work, it comes off as sloppy or slapdash. Being stupid is not enough to get a laugh, or a movies-worth of laughs. Its the why behind the stupid.
When “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” appeared on the Netflix home page, I thought, “This looks interesting, but probably won’t be funny at all, like Homes & Watson and The House.” Then I read that Eurovision was based on an actual singing competition. Hmm, maybe some thought went into this after all. My wife and I watched it yesterday. We both found it to be very funny. I think it is probably Ferrell’s funniest performance since The Other Guys back in 2010.
Ferrell and Rachel McAdams star as Lars and Sigrit, two Icelandic wanna-be pop stars who have been attached to each other since they were children. Lars, after seeing Abba on Eurovision, wants nothing more than to win the competition. He and Sigrit form a band called Fire Saga that write and sing slick pop tunes along the lines of Roxette or A-Ha. This movie being a Will Ferrell picture, the songs are well-meaning but incredibly, hilariously bad. The harder Fire Saga they try to sound important, the sillier they sound.
Pierce Brosnan plays Lars’ father Erick, and also has some good moments here. He is dead-set against Lars taking part in the competition, out of the fear that he will only embarrass himself and Iceland in the process. He is correct, but eventually comes around. (This is a comedy, not an Ingmar Bergman film.)
As fate would have it, Iceland actually has someone that has a chance at winning Eurovision: Katiana. Demi Lovato plays Katiana essentially as herself in a long blond wig. She can blow anyone off the stage, so if she gets into the contest, she likely can win. However, if Iceland wins, they would be required to host Eurovision next year. Can Iceland handle the costs? They just emerged from bankruptcy ten years ago. That plot point is completely unnecessary, and frankly should have been left out.
As fate (or Icelandic elves) would have it, Fire Saga are sent to the Eurovision contest. There they meet the other singers, including Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Legion) as Alexander Lemtov, the Russian firebrand of a singer. Stevens has a lot of fun with the role, and has several of the movie’s funniest lines. (His home has “impressive” statuary, to say the least.)
Like other leading ladies who have starred opposite Ferrell, McAdams is mostly along for the ride here. I don’t recall seeing her in a pure comedic role before, but she does show some talent in that area in this movie. She is an immensely likeable actor, and here she uses that to her advantage, making Sigrit a good-natured and goofy counterpart to Ferrell’s obliviousness. She believes that elves are real, and after seeing this movie, you may feel the same way.
The movie has some great set pieces, including Fire Saga’s performance in the semi-finals. It involves a long scarf and a hamster wheel prop. You definitely have to see it to believe it. There is also a sing-along to Cher’s Believe in the middle of the movie that gives all of the contestants a chance to shine. Ferrell may be the center of the movie, but he has no problems letting others take the spotlight. (In case you find yourself surprised by the talent of the other acts in the competition, they actually were winners or final contestants in Eurovision from prior years.)
The production values of this movie are top notch. Ferrell was first introduced to Eurovision by his wife, who is from Sweden, decades ago. He’s followed it ever since, even attending the finals one year. While watching this movie, I could tell that even though Ferrell is satirizing the proceedings, his satire comes from a place of love. He definitely appreciates the campy, overproduced atmosphere of the event. Only someone who truly loves Eurovision could make a movie that celebrates it and makes fun of it at the same time. Highly recommended.