The real Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled this year due to coronavirus, but can Netflix’s comedy take its place in fans’ hearts? Here’s our review
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: Will Ferrell plays an ambitious but ridiculous man who triumphs over adversity to win the day – if not literally, then metaphorically, when he realises love is more important than success.
We’ve been here before. That’s pretty much the plot of Semi-Pro (2008), Blades of Glory (2007), Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), just for starters. It’s an established formula, but when it works, it works. Translating that tried-and-tested conceit into the camp, bedazzled, feel-good world of the Eurovision Song Contest should’ve been a no-brainer.
And yet, David Dobkin’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is an over-long, under-funny mess of a film that’ll disappoint both Eurofans and comedy lovers alike.
Scripted by Saturday Night Live writer Andrew Steele and Ferrell himself, the film sees singing duo Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) battle sceptical producers to represent Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest, where they ultimately learn that music – and, yeah, love too – conquers all. There’s so much potential for gleeful mayhem there, but somehow none of it quite lands.
Partly, it’s a pacing issue. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is two hours long, which feels like a red flag for this kind of comedy. The initial set-up, in which it’s established that Sigrit is harbouring an unrequired crush on Lars, and that Lars’ father (Pierce Brosnan) is both extremely good looking and extremely ashamed of him, is rattled through to rush Fire Saga off to Edinburgh for the Contest. There’s not enough time to warm up to the characters, nor to deliver a single memorable joke. Once they arrive in Scotland, things get even messier, with no clear sense of how time is passing, who’s meant to be where, or why anything is happening the way it is. For this kind of comedy to work, there needs to be a sense of controlled chaos, but nothing ever quite feels like it’s under control here.
Worse, though, is that the sloppiness that drags down the pacing also infects almost every other aspect of the film. For every moment that feels well-observed, there are at least three that are too wide of the mark: Fire Saga’s song ‘Volcano Man’ evokes both 2010’s Romanian entry and 2019’s Norwegian one, but Dan Stevens’s Russian entry ‘Lion Of Love’ would’ve been rejected by even Moldova or San Marino, let alone Eurovision powerhouse Russia.
As the movie goes on, Eurofans will find themselves increasingly irritated by the liberties taken by the script, as the semi-final results are announced via satellite link-up to various countries announcing their 8, 10, and 12 points, and professional juries are eschewed entirely. (They might also find themselves perplexed that the Contest is apparently being hosted in Edinburgh, despite characters explaining both that the winning country hosts the next year’s Eurovision and that the United Kingdom hasn’t done well for years…)
But even non-fans will be frustrated by the terrible runtime:laughter ratio. Ferrell never quite feels like he’s on form here, while McAdams does her best but can’t overcome the half-a-character she’s been written. Jamie and Natasia Demetrious are woefully underused, and Pierce Brosnan might as well not have bothered; Demi Lovato might be the highlight, and she gets less than five minutes screentime total. It all just feels like such a giant missed opportunity, particularly in a grim year bereft of the joyful tweet-and-drink-along occasion the Eurovision Song Contest usually provides us with.
Actually – maybe a drinking game wouldn’t be the worst idea. Just don’t choose to drink when you spot a Euro-celebrity cameo, there’s a massive karaoke scene in the middle that’ll kill you off.
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