It's been years since the beloved Will Ferrell has experienced a beloved Will Ferrell film.
The perpetual man-child of cinema, even moreso than Adam Sandler, Ferrell has struggled as of late as a 52-year-old actor with a primary comedic shtick dependent almost entirely upon convincing the world of his immaturity. Flicks such as Downhill, Between Two Ferns: The Movie, and Zeroville have barely registered a box-office blip, while Holmes & Watson damn near killed his career.
Ferrell has had much better luck as a producer, attaching his name to such box-office and critical winners as Booksmart, Hustlers, and a host of television favorites. The simple truth is that even when Ferrell bombs, Hollywood loves Will Ferrell and America really loves Will Ferrell. He's that lovable schlub that you always want to see win and you stand in the corner with a tear in your eye when he finally does saying to no one in particular "I knew him when."
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is the kind of film that critics love to hate and even audiences hate to admit they actually loved, but it's practically textbook Will Ferrell, a goofy and endearing spoof of Europe's long-running music spectacle that itself weaves together cheesy magic with musical talent and enough tear-inducing moments to capture the imaginations of Europeans in just about every European country.
In a quarantined world where a public health emergency dominates the headlines worldwide and political chaos seems to be around every corner, it may not be an overstatement to say that the world could use a little goofy right now and Eurovision Song Contest may very well be here to save us all.
It might be a weird twist of coincidence that the aforementioned Eurovision has been canceled this year for the first time in its 64-year history, a victim of the also aforementioned pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives along with a myriad of music fests, concerts, and public life in general.
Eurovision Song Contest is pretty much it for 2020. Take that Christopher Nolan.
The film opens with a young Lars completely and utterly enchanted by Swedish supergroup ABBA's performance of "Waterloo" during the real-life Eurovision contest. While his father Erick (played by a permanently grimaced Pierce Brosnan) looks on disapprovingly, the previously sullen Lars comes to life and dances along with one of pop music's most dance along songs. Of course, he's joined by a young Sigrit, whose BFF status will last well into their adult years when the two will form the endearingly inept Icelandic garage band Fire Saga.
Written by Ferrell and Saturday Night Live vet turned Funny or Die collaborator Andrew Steele, Eurovision Song Contest may not be, and in fact isn't, the best film from Ferrell you've ever seen but it's a welcome return to formulaic form for Ferrell with a story that is constantly familiar but humor that is consistently warm and fresh and good-hearted.
Lord knows, we could use some good-hearted these days.
Ferrell has always had a bit of a gift at riffing on subcultures, from Anchorman to Talladega Nights to even the strange wonder of Blades of Glory. Eurovision continues that gift, selling its humor with surprising sincerity and such a gentle, warm spirit that if you're willing to surrender yourself to it and forgive its excesses you're in for one of the better comedy experiences of 2020 so far.
Admittedly, that's a limited selection.
The film is directed by David Dobkin, usually the purveyor of more cynical fare such as Wedding Crashers and The Judge while also serving up occasional just plain awful flicks like R.I.P.D. and King Arthur. Eurovision Song Contest weaves together the best of Dobkin, from his musical video shorts for Maroon 5 and 2Pac to such goofy, fun films like Fred Claus and the cynical but sweet Wedding Crashers. Here, Dobkin seems to intuitively keep everything unabashedly sincere and the film is much better for it. While Eurovision Song Contest has no business creeping over the two-hour mark, for the most part that's two hours of your life you won't be asking for back.
If you haven't guessed by now, Ferrell is the adult Lars, who looks every single one of Ferrell's 52 years but who's still not given up on his dream of musical stardom despite still mostly singing in his basement alongside Sigrit, now played by Rachel McAdams, with the exception of a village bar where they're mostly hearing Fire Saga's rousing version of the enthusiastic "Ja Ja Ding Dong."
Admit it. You smiled.
Lars and Sigrit sing techno-pop anthems with an unbridled belief that one day they'll actually play them somewhere where an anthem would actually be appropriate, but both Ferrell and McAdams share a delightful chemistry despite the fact that Ferrell is actually eleven years McAdams' senior and there's never a single moment in Eurovision Song Contest when the idea of a romantic connection between the two is even remotely believable.
Again, just go with it.
The two possess such a sense of wonder and innocence that you'll quickly give yourself to it. It's as if Buddy the Elf has found his real best friend, a fact that becomes a little bit of a snicker as Eurovision tips its cinematic hat to that beloved Ferrell holiday film. The two share precise, skewed Icelandic accents and outlandish costumes, yet play everything with such utter heart that you'll fall in love the two even though you know it's all pretty darn silly.
For the most part, you'll always know where Eurovision Song Contest is going. The jokes for the most part land somewhere between clunk and funk, mostly heartfelt chuckles rather than laugh-out-loud guffaws but it's the fact that you'll genuinely appreciate this movie's characters that will really sell the film.
The songs, those by Fire Saga and most of the other performers, are surprisingly catchy in that television anthem sort of way. Created by the likes of Savan Kotecha (Katie Perry's "Rise," Ariana Grande's "Sweetener") and Andreas Carlsson ( Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way," N'Sync's "Bye Bye Bye"), these are songs that you can actually believe would appear on a musical talent contest and they're performed with enthusiasm and energy galore.
One of the best scenes in Eurovision Song Contest radiates that enthusiasm and energy galore, an almost absurdly joy-filled medley of such familiar hits as "Believe," "Ray of Light," and "Waterloo," among others, performed by a myriad of past Eurovision contestants along with a fab and far from drab Dan Stevens as Russian contestant Alexander Lemtov, whose operatic baritone and hair-braiding skills enchant Sigrit despite nearly everyone's gaydar being set aflame from Alexander's opening note.
While Eurovision Song Contest is a Will Ferrell film, there's little doubt that Rachel McAdams is the highlight here and Dan Stevens steals every scene that he's in from beginning to end.
If I were to compare Eurovision Song Contest to any film I've ever seen in my life, I'd have to call it a weirdly cinematic cousin to Johnny Knoxville's The Ringer, a film that could have gone wrong in literally hundreds of ways but ended up being a weirdly wonderful film that was actually embraced by Special Olympics. Eurovision Song Contest laughs with its key players, but it never laughs at them. Much like the campy but engagingly inspired competition upon which it's based, Eurovision Song Contest amps up the lunacy without ever letting us forget these are human beings.
By god, amidst all their weirdness we love these folks.
I'm still not sure how McAdams manages to sell the fact that she's in love with Lars, though it's probably not a coincidence she has an easier time convincing us of her belief in elves. McAdams is a sight to behold here, her comic timing impeccable and her joy-filled presence lighting up the screen no matter what sort of weirdness surrounds her. She's as silly and sweet as Stevens' Lemtov is swaggering and seductive. Yet, somehow, both of them still manage to make us care about them and they both land key moments of humanity with such honesty that by film's end you might just feel a little moisture filling those eye glands as you watch everything unfold exactly how you know it's going to unfold.
Everything that happens in Eurovision Song Contest is unrealistic, but if you're watching Eurovision Song Contest for a dose of realism you might have some other issues you need to deal with anyway. Fire Saga has no business even making the Icelandic finals, but they will. Fire Saga has no business making it to Eurovision, but they will.
You get my point.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is an unabashedly goofy, joy-filled, and good-hearted film that fills a serious cinematic void with a cast that taps into a story that is endlessly sweet and refreshingly devoid of cynicism. Filmed on location in Iceland, Eurovision Song Contest is beautiful to behold and beautifully nails the tone of a film that knows it's impossibly goofy but absolutely refuses to apologize for it. Ferrell's in terrific form, McAdams reminds us that she's still an under-appreciated comedy talent, Stevens takes a one-note character and performs an opera, and the music will have you humming along long after the closing notes have been sung.
Eurovision Song Contest is available now on Netflix.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic