It is hard to discern who the audience for Will Ferrell’s latest comedy outing is. While it could easily be for fans of Eurovision for all its unbridled frivolity and unapologetic stupidity, its release under the Netflix banner seems to suggest a wider audience and while some Ferrell fanatics will find his usual brand of surreal comic stylings here, they don’t come nearly thick or fast enough to classify Eurovision Song Contest as a true Gary Sanchez, Ferrell comedy. Despite being released under the Gary Sanchez banner and having wide ranging comedy from the fantasical to simple sarcasm, it forces itself into the category of comedy, instead feeling more like a love letter to a competition Ferrell himself loved enough to make a movie about it.
In that regard it is a vibrant, entertaining film with some killer musical moments that range from truly inspired to outright weird. Feeling most at home in the music, Ferrell and director David Dobkin’s story of joke band Fire Saga, made up of two Icelandic dreamers Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (a scene stealing Rachel McAdams) is often an unexpected joy to experience. Both are flung into a competition that sees them both as jokes and while much of Dobkin’s film uses this simple premise for comedy, Ferrell and co writer Andrew Steele have written a film about being who you want to be despite what other people might think of you. It’s a quintessentially Eurovision message but one handled with impressive tact for a seemingly irreverent comedy film full of farcical death scenes and fantastical ‘ghosts and fairies’.
Although perfectly fine in mocking Lars’ unrealistic dream of winning the contest, the competition itself is never the target and while it seems like a missed opportunity at times as highlighting some of the more outlandish traditions of a competition that embraces being unlike any other singing competition, there is a charm to embracing this inclusive world, something Ferrell and co do by welcoming past contestants to cameo throughout. Embracing this world helps a film that for almost its entire first half treads water through thinly stretched punchlines and weak relationship dramas. Coming in at just over two hours, its only in the final hour that the bizarre tone of the film really comes together as Lars and Sigrit finally approach competing and their fellow contestants become more clearly defined.
Supporting characters like Russian ‘lothario’ Alexander (Dan Stevens) and Lars disapproving father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) while humourous in fits and starts only really bring anything new and interesting as this story figures out what it wants to say. While in the end, they provide an interesting side story about not judging a book by its cover, they feel like jokes for most of Eurovisions bloated runtime which would be fine if the punchline was even remotely funny. Thirty minutes too long, Eurovision spends far too long setting the scene on a picture that really doesn’t require the added ‘depth’ Ferrell and Steele think they are providing.
It all amounts to a film that misses the mark more often than not in its comedy but unexpected proves quite affecting in its melodrama, thanks to some well constructed musical moments and a thrilling finale. Tracks like the uniquely Eurovision ‘Lion of Love’ proves painfully catchy but equally humorous in how it fulfils the accepted contest tradition of being entertaining but still acceptably bad. The closing jingle ‘Ja-Ja Ding Dong’ is painfully obvious in its humour but somehow that’s what makes it work while the show stopping ‘Husavik’ only goes to prove that the strongest asset here is the music at the story’s centre. It’s the right amount of musical theatre and cringe comedy and they make finding that balance seem easy. Even the little snippets of fake Eurovision entries are equal parts grotesque and charming.
The Story of Fire Saga might just be the best film about Eurovision because everyone behind the scenes and in front understand the contest they lovingly portray but also comprehend its limitations. Much like many of Ferrell’s features, sometimes the dumb, bad creations prove the best. In fact Fire Saga’s chosen competition track ‘Double Trouble’ says it best, How can something so wrong feel so right?