Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
The Eurovision song contest is a huge event in Europe, giving it the size and spectacle of a big sporting event. However, outside of the Old Continent the competition is barely known. An attempt to bridge the American ignorance on it is made by Will Ferrell, who brings a comedic take on the annual musical celebration.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) is the story of Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) two Icelanders from a small fishing village, who dream of representing their country in Eurovision. After a seeming sequence of accidents and flukes they stumble their way into a world of celebrity and glamour that might be too big for them
Just by taking a look at the film’s title, one can grasp the extreme confusion around this film’s identity. There seems to be a tear between wanting to appease fans of Eurovision, while also introducing it to clueless viewers outside of Europe. This causes for some blocky exposition scenes, such as in an Icelandic committee sequence were five minutes of dialogue are unabashedly reciting the competitions’ rules. Then there are dance and song routines with blatant cameos of real Eurovision contestants, but for a non-fan viewer these just seem like random interjections with characters who never show up again.
Will Ferrell had been a fan of Eurovision, reportedly ever since he went to Sweden with his wife in the late 90s and saw the furor over the competition. Ferrell co-wrote the screenplay for this film, and there are brief examples of his passion and love for Eurovision, with subtle homages that work much better than the celebrity cameos. In many ways Eurovision Song Contest felt like one of Ferrell’s mid-2000s comedies, with silly premises that are held up by quick-cracking jokes. However, Ferrell’s script seems to falter by spinning off in unnecessary tangents that make Eurovision Song Contest over two hours long. If such tangents were to bring about some character development, they would be worth it for a cathartic finale, but unfortunately, Ferrell isn’t able to give his Lars much depth.
We herein arrive at a critical mistake in the movie: casting Ferrell. True, such a film would not attract a big audience without the American’s star-power, but he seems so incongruous in this story. There is an attempt to bring some emotional depth to Lars’ character, by showing him having drifted to Eurovision as a way to cope with his mothers’ death, and later as a show of independence to his disapproving father. Ferrell, however, is an actor who goes all in on the goofiness and is not one known to bring much emotional subtlety or layers. Furthermore, he clashes as much older than his role was meant to be, he has Pierce Brosnan playing his father, despite only being 13 years younger, and he doesn’t pair up to well with a much younger-looking McAdams as his romantic partner.
McAdams, however, justifies her casting by showing more flexibility in playing around with the more dramatic and comedic aspects of the film. One feels much more attuned with her character and her stakes than with Ferrell’s, feeling for the suppression and ignorance that she has felt from Lars. This makes her character infinitely more interesting that Lars, and had me wanting the film to dive more into her story instead.
The film’s humor is largely hit-or-miss, with some gags earning chuckles, but others falling on cold silence. This irregularity seems to come from the fact that director David Dobkin isn’t motivated to make his scenes crisper and snappier, instead letting them drag on with seeming improvisations that bring about random material.
Eurovision Song Contest is also dragged down by the fact that it keeps cutting off the main draw of its entire pitch: the music. Because our protagonists are clumsy, their songs are frequently cut off in the first verses, and we only get about three complete songs played in the entire film. This makes for a frustrating and fragmented experience of the film’s music. When the film’s songs do play, they’re not half-bad, although their enjoyment is largely elevated thanks to the ability to hear the chorus lines.
In the end, while Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga might have been a passion project of Will Ferrell’s, it is a heavily flawed final product. While Netflix has produced true gems by giving its filmmakers free reign, Dobkin lets his scenes play for too long, and irregular jokes and clashing performing tones cause this, regretfully, to be a disappointment.