Review: 'Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga' finds Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams in the Popstar Inferno
Will Ferrell comedies are hit or miss, but "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" is pretty close to a bull's-eye. At first you might wonder, "Why try to satirize the annual Eurovision contest -- a riot of madly percolating disco pop from 42 countries, swathed in ridiculous costumes, crowd-strafing lasers and drifting banks of stage fog?" This stuff satirizes itself. But the filmmakers -- director David Dobkin and writers Ferrell and Andrew Steele -- take it fondly enough to get the details right. And the music, too: Head music producer Savan Kotecha, who has written hits for Ariana Grande, The Weeknd and Maroon 5, contributes four songs, with ancillary teams (heavy on Swedes) weighing in with the rest. The resulting tunes are annoyingly memorable in the best Eurovision tradition.
An important part of why the movie works so well is that it's not entirely a Will Ferrell picture (although he's fine in it, and generously supportive of his fellow actors). Rachel McAdams, playing Ferrell's love interest, carries much of the movie, contributing emotional glow and sharp comic timing. And there's an unexpected bonus: Dan Stevens ("Legion") gives a gloriously hambone performance -- high-booted and bare-chested under a gold-embroidered frock coat -- as Lemtov, a neo-operatic Russian pop bellower with a randy wandering eye.
The underdog-makes-good story holds few surprises, of course. Ferrell is Lars Erickssong, an Icelandic man-child still chasing the Eurovision dream that swept him up upon seeing ABBA win the contest in 1974 (with "Waterloo," a song that also gets an enormous production number here). McAdams is Sigrit, the girl who has always loved Lars and is now his partner in a pop band called Fire Saga, which regularly plays the pub in their tiny fishing village (to general derision, especially from Lars' disapproving father, portrayed by Pierce Brosnan). The movie introduces these two in a terrifically kitschy fantasy video for "Volcano Man," with Sigrit in silver leather with rhinestone teardrops dripping down her cheeks and Lars in Norse god-style armor with raccoon stripes painted across his eyes. They're standing on a windy bluff over the ocean, far from any electrical outlet, playing a matched pair of synthesizers. It's perfect. And best of all, brief.
Because as much fun as the movie often is, it's undermined by narrative rambling. There's too much travelogue footage as Fire Saga fails its way upward through the various steps of the contest in Reykjavik and then Edinburgh. (The spectacular stage and audience shots were actually captured at Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv.) And a couple of bits involving a flaming ghost (played by Demi Lovato) and a van full of American tourist kids don't quite justify their presence. (There are also many vague Yumpin' Yiminy accents deployed here, none of them reminiscent of any place on this planet, but let's not nitpick -- or carp about all the unavoidable lip-synching going on.)
Ferrell is a lovable dolt, as always. And McAdams is irresistibly sweet and funny, whether offering up puzzling bits of Icelandic folk wisdom ("Anger cannot churn the butter") or repeatedly fending off Stevens' lusty Lemtov, even after he promises her a life of luxury in one of his many mansions ("Wi-Fi in every room!"). And if all that's not enough, there's elf action, too. Deal sealed, right?
Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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