Will Ferrell Lives Out His Pop Star Fantasies in Netflix Comedy ‘Eurovision Song Contest’
Will Ferrell has big dreams in “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” an ambitious musical comedy the actor-comedian co-wrote. Ferrell teams up with Rachel McAdams and reunites with “Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin to tell the story of an underdog Icelandic duo who set out to win Eurovision.
For those unfamiliar, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition where artists from over 50 countries come together, each one performing an original song. The contest has been held annually since 1956, with 2020 being the first year it had to be canceled. While few Americans know a lot about it, Eurovision is a big deal for those in Europe. Ferrell plays one such mega fan, Lars Erickssong, who we first meet as a little boy in 1974 Iceland. After seeing ABBA, one of the most famous Eurovision winners, compete on TV, he vows to one day win the contest, to the dismay of his manly fisherman father, Erick (Pierce Brosnan). One person who believes in him is Sigrit Ericksdottir (McAdams), his childhood friend who grows up to be his musical partner, co-creating their pop act Fire Saga. Sigrit would also like to be Lars’ partner in life, but so consuming is his quest to win Eurovision that he is blind to her love.
From the start, it’s apparent that Sigrit is the one with the talent, but she won’t hear of going solo, not only because she cares for Lars romantically, but also because he inspired her to take up music back when she was a nonverbal child. Although they live in a small fishing village and Erick is/was a ladies man, Lars and Sigrit are “probably” not brother and sister, although they have come to look so much alike that they are often mistaken for siblings.
A very spiritual person, Sigrit makes offerings to hidden elves, a practice that may seem like something made-up for the film, but actually has a basis in Icelandic mythology. Her prayers are answered after Fire Saga’s demo is randomly picked out of a box by the Icelandic Eurovision committee. Apparently, they needed twelve acts for their preliminary competition, and they only had eleven. To them, it doesn’t matter who competes, as uber talented vocalist Katiana (Demi Lovato) has it in the bag. The prospect of Iceland winning Eurovision is very exciting to the committee, as their country has never done it before, although one member, Victor Karlosson (Mikael Persbrandt), is less thrilled, as the winning country has to host the following year, and he doesn’t believe that their national finances can handle it.
Although a technical glitch makes the pair a laughingstock on TV, the Eurovision committee is forced to send Fire Saga as their delegate after an unfortunate explosion on a boat kills the other contestants. The duo head to Edinburough, and the fun begins when they start interacting with the other musicians, similarly colorful characters. Ferrell reportedly spent years envisioning his Eurovision film, and even attended the competition and spent time backstage with contestants. As a result, he seemed to have put his energy into creating characters that are both quirky and likable, as opposed to focusing heavily on jokes and gags.
The most vivid of these characters is Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), the Russian contender who’s slated to take the top prize. He’s obviously gay, although his country’s politics prohibit him from coming out. For reasons that are never crystal clear, he aggressively pursues Sigrit, which puts a strain on her and Lars’ relationship. Stevens, like Ferrell and McAdams, seems to have the time of his life here, living out his pop star fantasies. At the same time, Greek singer Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut) goes after Lars, causing Sigrit to see green. Fortunately, Ferrell mostly stays away from using cultural stereotypes for cheap laughs, except for when it comes to his own countrymen, obnoxious American tourists who find themselves the butt of some hilarious jokes.
With a runtime of 123 minutes, “Eurovision Song Contest” is slightly bloated, and repeated gags of Fire Saga embarrassing themselves are drawn out a tad too long. However, the characters are enjoyable enough that the viewer doesn’t mind escaping to their world for a while, and the soundtrack isn’t half bad. A highlight of the film is a musical sequence about a third of the way through during which the performers all engage in a sing-along at a lavish party. But the showstopping moment comes during the final act when Fire Saga performs “Husavik,” a resounding power ballad by Savan Kotecha, a songwriter who has previously penned hits for Lovato, Ariana Grande, and the Weeknd. Swedish singer Molly Sandén lends her voice to McAdams, bringing down the house in a pitch perfect climatic performance.
“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” begins streaming June 26 on Netflix.