Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams strap the cheesy pop earworms as fictional Icelandic dreamers in Netflix’s “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” channeling the spirit of camping with which real Eurovision — an international songwriting competition begun in 1956 — has been synonymous for decades. But one of the film’s most annoying choices is also its central premise: in the year 2020, is there really some charm to be extracted from the exploits of the bumbling, buffoonish man-child?
Ferrell, of course, has made the trope his life of bread and butter throughout his career, here adding Lars Erickssong to his work of adorable oafs. The hypersensitive musician, who hails from a small fishing village in Iceland, hung a lifetime of trouble with his father by winning the over-the-top Eurovision competition. He idolizes eurovision winners ’74 ABBA (who doesn’t?) and writes catchy but shallow songs with titles like “Volcano Man” and “Jaja Ding Dong” as he tries, and fails, to win over his disapproving father (Pierce Brosnan).
The only one who believes in Lars is his earthy and gentle bandmate Sigrit Ericksdottir (McAdams), a maniacal Nordic dream girl resplendent in bulky Scandinavian knits and ocean-sprayed braids. She also believes that murderous magical elves grant wishes. Sigrit is a talented vocalist who has not yet found her voice, the true artist of the duo. But as ferrell and Andrew Steele’s script insists, she is also so desperately in love with Lars that she makes her Eurovision dreams her own in the hope that if they win the contest, he will finally go out with her.
American comedian Will Ferrell as Lars and Canadian Rachel McAdams as Sigrit in “Eurovision,” which Ferrell also produced and co-wrote.
(John Wilson / Netflix)
It’s an insult to female artists everywhere, not to mention McAdams’ ungrateful work that “Eurovision” clings to such an outdated gender dynamic and tired formula. As its thin premise extends for a bloated period of 123 minutes, the issue rots. Why are Sigrit’s dreams, ambitions, desires and desires linked to the ambitions of an egocentric fool? It is the kind of presumption of history, masked under the pretext of a double-focus musical novel, which serves only one protagonist: the stubbornly man.
Unfortunately, linked to Lars she is, and together they are Fire Saga, the most ridiculed musical act in all of Iceland. By some mixture of chance or fate or magical elves, the underdog duo ends up representing Iceland, much to the chagrin of a villainous bank executive (played by Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt), and the film diverts its very American lens to Eurovision itself – although exactly what that means for Lars or Sigrit on a deeper level is left superficial and unexplored.
Given seemingly broad resources, director David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”) and filmmaker Danny Cohen (“The King’s Speech”) put together beautiful sequences across the continent. The action travels from the craggy coastal climes of Húsavík, Iceland, to the cobbled streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, where wide-eyed Naifs Lars and Sigrit find themselves thrust into a world of LED-filled arenas, gigantic productions and glamorous mansion parties.
British actor Dan Stevens plays Russian contestant Alexander Lemtov in the Eurovision Song Contest.
(John Wilson / Netflix)
Colorful contestants come on the scene, such as Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a seductive Russian singer who gives himself the brilliance of Sigrit, and the Greek diva Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut), who sets his eyes on Lars. “Eurovision” gains steam as it expands in scope, leaning toward great personalities and exuberantly flashy theatricality. Dancing somewhere between imitation and gentle derision — and partly filmed at Eurovision 2019 — numbers like Lemtov’s “Lion of Love” evoke circus theatricality recognizable to anyone who attended the annual event or fell into rabbit holes from Eurovisions’ past. (One of the biggest pieces in the film, involving an 8-ton hamster wheel stuntman that went wrong, is directly inspired by Entry from Ukraine in 2014.)
With a few exceptions, however, the satire is too blunt to say anything substantive about Eurovision, an event watched by hundreds of millions around the world each year, or the artists who feed their zaniness —artists who, like Fire Saga, dream of winning the ultimate award for personal glory or national pride. A brief and clumsy observation about the anti-LGBT policies of Russia, a country participating since 1994, is the closest “Eurovision” that comes to criticize the expressly non-political stance that the event officially takes despite the intensely political times.
“Húsavík (Hometown),” sung by Swedish singer Molly Sandén and McAdams, is a highlight on a soundtrack filled with compelling Euro-pop songs.
(John Wilson / Netflix)
Inspired moments can be found throughout “Eurovision” if you have patience. Pop queen Demi Lovato plays Katiana, a polished Icelandic singer favored to win the contest, in a turnout that becomes genuinely, and refreshingly, surprising. Eurovision ’17 winner Salvador Sobral of Portugal appears as an Edinburgh busker performing your lovely winning song“Love pelois Two.” And the ballad “Húsavík (Hometown)” sung by Swedish singer Molly Sandén, whose vocals are mixed in McAdams’ music for most of Sigrit’s performances, is a beautiful and growing number that remains. Even the recurring joke that Sigrit and Lars may be brothers works, underscoring the unconvincing romantic narrative.
“Eurovision” leaves you wanting more for Sigrit, someone who deserves to dream bigger than the script allows. But you also want more for the handful of real Eurovision contestants who appear briefly in singing appearances, reduced to musical mise-en-scène and adding much of the film’s depiction of diversity as the backdrop to Ferrell’s antics. “The most renowned music competition on Earth is also the most inclusive,” the film’s marketing materials proudly proclaim. If only Eurovision cared about making that statement sound true.
‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of The Fire Saga’
Classification: PG-13, for raw sexual material, including full nude sculptures, some violent comic images and language
Runtime: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Play: Streaming on June 26 on Netflix