These are dark times we’ve living in, and that is not an overstatement. No matter your personal neck of the woods or quarantine bubble, there is more suffering on a global scale now than in any time since the Great Depression. From a terrible pandemic to resulting economic woes and record unemployment, the real world is a dumpster fire at the moment, rife with greed, corruption, and inadequate or non-existent leadership. It’s no wonder Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is quickly amassing an online fan club around the world. Even more than usual, we’re in desperate need of light, frothy entertainment that won’t remind us of what’s lurking outside our homes, our perilous bubbles. Eurovision is possibly Will Ferrell’s best effort since Step Brothers, a successful return to big, broad studio comedy by Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin, and exactly what we need in these trying times.
As an American I had next to zero knowledge of the annual Eurovision Song Contest. For us, it’s sometimes “out of country, out of mind,” and given our collective ineligibility (not to mention the ubiquity of singing contests on television over the last twenty years) and an obnoxious sense of American exceptionalism, it’s really no surprise the contest never gained a foothold in the States. All of this is to say that I in no way can comment on the accuracy or parody contained herein. What I can say is that it’s only sporadically funny, but unexpectedly moving and involving in ways I could not have forecast at the halfway mark of this picture. Ferrell is relatively subdued as Lars, an Icelandic wannabe singer who, alongside his friend and potential mate Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), has dreamt of winning the Eurovision contest since he was a wee child. They’re both living with widowed parents, struggling with mid-life crises, and have almost lost hope of ever making it to the big show. Sigrit’s mother thinks her daughter too good for the bumbling Lars, and Lars’ father (Pierce Brosnan) is fed up with his son’s foolhardy dreams. Sure enough, Sigrit is a much better singer and Lars is a sympathetic if no less toxic ball of insecurity. As fate would have it though, the laughing stock of Iceland make it to the contest, and thus ensues a free-wheeling tribute to Europe’s premier competition show and a genuinely invigorating exercise in truly escapist entertainment.
Eurovision wouldn’t be remotely as endearing were it not for a number of inspired performances and musical sequences. Dan Stevens nearly steals the show as a famous Russian pop singer with a secret, the would-be villain who’s really anything but and simply very lonely on the touring road. His solo Lion of Love is an amusing sideshow of excess and pomposity, and Stevens lights up the screen as he sashays around in open-breasted designer suits and robes. However, as good as it is, that solo pales in comparison to an epic “song-along” sequence set in his character’s ornate mansion nearly an hour into the movie. Corralling an assortment of previous Eurovision winners and contestants, all European stars of course, the set piece is expertly staged, shot, and choreographed, and really lets you know that Dobkin is attempting more here than mere easy laughs and eccentric buffoonery. Also evocative and unexpectedly moving as well is Lars and Sigrit’s final performance for the Eurovision audience, a nail-biter of a number to determine who will win the whole contest, and with McAdams front and center.
As Lars’ other half, McAdams confirms herself as one of today’s best working comedic actresses alongside Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish, and Anna Kendrick. While some of the bigger moments belong to lip syncing via Swedish singer Molly Sanden, she holds her own in her own voice for many a musical number and provides a welcome spunk and relatable warmth that you don’t get from Ferrell’s goofy near-caricature. It’s clear based on the film’s moving climax that Ferrell could see the forest for the trees too, as the plot hinges on Lars learning to take a backseat to the more talented Sigrit. The heart of the film lays in their obvious, flawed, but somehow likable will-they-or-won’t-they relationship. Call it Ferrell’s Wedding Singer or simply the next in a long line of Adam McKay collaborations (he serves as producer once again), but it works. No matter the moniker, no matter the mixed reviews, Eurovision will go down as a brief ray of light amid so much darkness, and one of Ferrell’s best movies. Back in the day, curmudgeonly critics were ho-hum on Step Brothers too, and we know how that turned out. His latest will age well in the annals of kooky star-studded musical comedies.