Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Movie Review: Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga *** ½ / *****
Directed by: David Dobkin.
Written by: Will Ferrell & Andrew Steele.
Starring: Will Ferrell (Lars Erickssong), Rachel McAdams (Sigrit Ericksdottir), Dan Stevens (Alexander Lemtov), Mikael Persbrandt (Victor Karlosson), Pierce Brosnan (Erick Erickssong), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Neils Brongus), Melissanthi Mahut (Mita Xenakis), Joi Johannsson (Jorn), Björn Hlynur Haraldsson (Policeman – Arnar), Demi Lovato (Katiana), Graham Norton (Graham Norton), Jamie Demetriou (Kevin Swain - Artistic Director), Jon Kortajarena (Corin Vladvitch), Elina Alminas (Sasha), Alfrun Rose (Anna), Elin Petersdottir (Helka), Christopher Jeffers (Johnny John John), Rebecca Harrod (Brittny), Josh Zaré (Bill), Bobby Lockwood (Jeff), Eleanor Williams (Jenn), Elena Saurel (Eurovision Stage Manager), Björn Stefánsson (Ian), Chris Lew Kum Hoi (Jae-Bong), Tómas Lemarquis (Jiles), Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson (Johans).

It would have been easy to make a movie mocking Eurovision – the song infamous contest barely known on this side of Atlantic as being over-the-top and silly. Instead, the Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga is in love with this goofy contest, and completely embraces it for the over-the-top and silly spectacle. Ferrell – who co-wrote the film – obviously has an affection for this contest – and it shows in every scene of the movie. He also delivers a wonderfully sweet, goofy performance in the film – but pretty much allows Rachel McAdams and Dan Stevens to steal the movie right out from underneath him. The film doesn’t quite relive the glory days of Ferrell comedy stardom – it’s not Talladega Nights – but it’s closer to them than anything he has done in a while.
In the film, Ferrell stars as Lars Erickssong, an Icelander who has dreamed of being a music star since childhood – which is where his partnership with Sigrit Ericksdottir (McAdams) began. Everyone loves Sigrit, thinks she is wasting her time with Lars – playing dive bars, getting nowhere. She’s in love with him as well – something he seems completely ignorant of, so immersed in his music. His dream is to enter – and win – the Eurovision contest. They keep submitting their songs – but cannot even get into the Iceland competition, which would give them the right to enter Eurovision – but all that is about to change thanks a series of bizarrely (and very dark) things that happen.
Ferrell and company know that the charm of Eurovision is how over-the-top and cheesy it all is – and while they take things just a little farther for comedic effect, it’s not as far as you may assume if you’ve never come across Eurovision before. Yes, the Icelandic duo’s songs take things to another level of pure goofiness – but much of what we see is a lot closer to reality than you think. The film isn’t mercilessly mocking this – it’s affectionately ribbing it. And everyone gets in on the act.
Ferrell has always been good at playing dumb – characters who are pretty stupid, in movies that aren’t. Lars is in this wheelhouse, and he pulls it off with ease. He is upstaged by McAdams however, who has shown a gift being able to play comedy with a straight face no matter how insane things get, and ground it in some sort of reality. Her performance in Game Night is one of the best in recent years in a mainstream comedy – and while this may not quite be at that level, it’s close enough. I continue to believe that had McAdams came of age in a slightly earlier era – she would have become one of the biggest movie stars in the world – you cannot teach that charm, that comedic timing, that warmth that she has. Another highlight is Dan Stevens – as the Russian competitor, so gloriously going for broke, so obviously, flamboyantly gay, and yet not in any way that could be considered offensive. It’s a glorious supporting turn.
Eurovision is probably too long at over two hours – even if there isn’t much that obviously stands out as needing to be cut. I suspect that director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) fell in love with the material, and knowing it was a Netflix movie, just kept it all in (which may be the only comparison you can make between this movie and another Netflix film, The Irishman, in which Scorsese pretty much admitted that had the film been heading to theaters, he would have cut it a little). But the film remains so wondrously sweet and funny that it’s hard to complain. In a summer where we are missing big screen comedies, here is a good substitute.

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