I really don’t find Will Ferrell that funny. I do like Elf and his voice work is good in The Lego Movie, Curious George and Megamind. I also admire his performances in things like Melinda and Melinda and Stranger than Fiction but I find that when he’s trying to make me laugh, he falls totally flat. His best comedy movie is arguably Anchorman but here he was supported by other better actors, and some of his films are just excruciating to watch. As examples of this take Beyond Two Ferns: The Movie, Zoolander 2 and the first twelve minutes of Holmes & Watson (I couldn’t bear to go any further with that one). I’ve got nothing against him personally, it’s just that his odd mix of deadpan delivery and mania, his pseudo hubris, his childlike petulance and his regular knob jokes don’t amuse me.
With this in mind I could quite happily have removed the guy from this new film entirely; I definitely would have enjoyed it more without him. In fact actually I’m going to follow that principle for the rest of this write up; from here on in, uncharitable as this may be, this review of Will Ferrell’s latest comedy will no longer mention Will Ferrell.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is all about an Icelandic singer then, played by Rachel McAdams, who is driven by her less talented and annoyingly optimistic bandmate (whoever that might be) to enter the titular international music competition. Quaint to the point of idiocy but apparently quite talented, young Sigrid makes it to the finals but has to wrestle with what she values and is prepared to sacrifice for success. McAdams, unlike some other actors I could mention, is an undeniably talented and subtle comedy performer and this being the case joining her on this journey is not without its rewards. She isn’t generally thought of as a comedian but actually her career has been divided nicely between serious and funny roles since 2004 saw the release of both Mean Girls and The Notebook. She is certainly the star of this movie but you can’t help but get the impression that someone thinks otherwise. Her character is meant to be roughly the same age as her co-star too but the ten years plus difference is distractingly obvious.
As the superfluous first half of the movie’s title suggests, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is formally endorsed by the Eurovision Song Contest. I am aware that some critics have commented on how this has robbed the film of its teeth but actually I think this is a bit unkind. It assumes that any film that fails to mercilessly satirise or attack the contest is a criminally missed opportunity and to actually celebrate it to any extent is by its very nature flawed. No one would deny that Eurovision is silly, this film included, but while I’m not a great fan myself I recognise that it is a valid form of entertainment that a lot of people work hard on. It might be kitsch but, you know, maybe it doesn’t necessarily deserve a kicking. There is one particular party scene, featuring a whole raft of the competition’s real stars, that really leans into the cheesiness of the whole thing and it’s quite fun. The script is obvious and not sufficiently witty but there were other ways of correcting that without ripping into something that 180 million people tune into every year, across forty countries.
Actually the way is handles its sense of continental unity might be one of my main criticisms of the film. Eurovision is supposed to celebrate different cultures but this movie doesn’t feel very respectful of the nation it so heavily features. The location shots of Iceland look amazing but the people are portrayed as simplistic, parochial and widely prone to believing in fairies and fantasy creatures (and not in the cool way that André Øvredal did with the Norwegians in Troll Hunter). It isn’t quite the same as the way Borat treated Kazakhstan but it feels like it’s further down that scale. A closing minutes switch to singing the praises of life in the coastal town of Husavik seems like a late and shallow reversal/apology.
There are entertaining performances in the film though. Other than McAdams, we have Demi Lovato in a role that is somewhat reminiscent of Griffin Dunne in American Werewolf in London and Dan Stevens once again proving that if they ever do cast that remake of The Princess Bride then he is the only choice to play the man in black.
Do you know what? This movie was perfectly distracting for a couple of hours and it didn’t cost me anything as it’s on Netflix so there are worst ways to pass your time. Even if it does have you know who in it.
The Ripley Factor:
As well as stereotyping an entire country, this film does kind of stereotype half of the human race as well. Rachel McAdams’ Sigrid is romantic, trusting, lead by others, to be desired, dressed in floaty whites and emotional. Sure, she is courageous and steadfast too but she’s not challenging any tropes. Let’s just say, for a UK audience, that she spends too much time making her mind up and is a bit of a puppet on a string.