It’s been a trying year for Eurovision stans, who had to make do with a socially distanced compilation show instead of the usual bells, whistles and bonkers performances of the Song Contest proper. Will Ferrell’s long-threatened and generally affectionate Eurovision spoof won’t add insult to injury, but the people of Iceland, where the film largely takes place, might be less amused.
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Scenes set at a fictional version of Eurovision 2021 – it’s inexplicably being held in Edinburgh, suggesting the UK might have won last year, which really is pure fiction – are tremendous fun. Ferrell even gathers recent contestants including Loreen, Conchita Wurst and Netta for a completely ridiculous mash-up of Abba’s ‘Waterloo’, Cher’s ‘Believe’, Madonna’s ‘Ray Of Light’ and Black Eyed Peas ‘I Gotta Feeling’ that somehow works. It’s a bit like Glee on ketamine, and the clear highlight of the film. But before this, we have to endure a plodding backstory peppered with patchy and sometimes misguided stabs at humour.
Ferrell – who co-wrote the script with Saturday Night Live alum Andrew Steele – stars as Lars Erickssong, a harmless loser from a small Icelandic fishing village who has one ambition in life: to win Eurovision. Together with childhood friend Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), he performs in a local bar band called Fire and Ice and gets heckled when they don’t play a popular Icelandic folk song called ‘Jaja Ding Dong’ (it’s actually one of numerous spoofy originals written for the film). Lars craves respect from his gruff fisherman father (Pierce Brosnan), but the older man regards his son as an embarrassment and Eurovision as a silly distraction from the serious business of real life.
Ferrell, McAdams and Brosnan play their characters with a kind of generic cod-Nordic accent that’s presumably meant to be clichéd and exaggerated, but still takes some getting used to. McAdams’ character has a fabulous singing voice, but it’s not the actress’s own – she’s actually lip-syncing to vocals by Swedish singer Molly Sandén. Combined with recurring jokes about incest, Sigrit praying to elves for miracles, and the Icelanders’ dodgy grasp of American idioms, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Ferrell is reaching for low-hanging fruit – basically, aren’t these parochial European people funny! He chucks in some digs at dumb, Starbucks-loving Americans too, presumably to even things up, but these aren’t especially clever either. At least director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus) gets to squeeze in a few slick visual gags including a cameo from an otherworldly pop diva played by Demi Lovato.
The cringy accents and misjudged jokes are a shame, in a way, because Ferrell’s film is actually a well-meaning underdog story about a couple of guileless dreamers who make it to Eurovision, fuck up massively (and hilariously), but ultimately end up succeeding anyway. Even Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens’ cartoon villain, Fire and Ice’s scheming Russian revival Alexander Lemtov, gets a happy ending involving a stealthy potshot at Putin’s homophobic regime. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga isn’t a disaster, but it’s a case of douze points for the big comic set pieces, and maybe three or four for everything else.
- Director: David Dobkin
- Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan
- Release date: June 26 (Netflix)