Directed by: David Dobkin
Written by: Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens and Melissanthi Mahut
Growing up I never saw the appeal of the Eurovision Song Contest, either on a serious or ironic level. It is anti-music and at the same time seems too bizarre to even poke fun at. Bewilderment was always my strongest reaction. Will Ferrell, it seems, has a different view, reflected in his new film, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. The film attempts to pay homage, while at the same time, send-up the ridiculous pageantry of the fabled competition.
We begin in the small town of Husavik, Iceland in 1974. The year 1974 will be significant for Eurovision connoisseurs as the year Abba won the competition with ‘Waterloo’. A young man dances uninhibited in front of the TV set to the song, he is scolded by his father but he doesn’t care, a passion has been stirred within. Fast-forward to present day and that boy is now a man, Lars, played by Will Ferrell. He jams in the garage with his childhood friend Sigrit (McAdams). As a duo they go by the name of Fire Saga. They dream of entering Eurovision.
You can expect a certain type of humour from a Gary Sanchez production. The production company was founded by Ferrell and Adam McKay and is responsible for films like Step Brothers (2008), The Other Guys (2010) and The Campaign (2012). The former two films were written by Ferrell and McKay, with Ferrell in the leading role and McKay in the director’s chair. Without McKay, Ferrell falters a little. McKay’s instinct from improvisational comedy brings out the best in Ferrell. Therefore, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Fire Saga isn’t as funny as Ferrell’s best work, it suffers from tonal issues, but it has its moments.
Fire Saga don’t have a great musical reputation. Through a massive slice of luck, one of the films funnier moments, they become Iceland’s entry into Eurovision. Once Fire Saga arrive at the competition, Ferrell, his co-writer Andrew Steele and director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers (2005)) ramp up the homage/parody. The performers we see are archetypal of real performers past and in fairness to the filmmakers they get the aesthetic just right. The competition favourite is Alexander Lemtov, played by Dan Stevens in the film’s stand out performance. He plays a camp Russian singing in a baritone over EuroPop trash. The audience loves him and the thinly veiled homoeroticism is abundant.
The main obstacles to Fire Saga’s success are Alexander, their tendency to mess up every performance and their love for each other, which Lars doesn’t want to acknowledge. The dream of success comes first. One of the real stretches the audience will have to make is to swallow Rachel McAdam’s character’s attraction to Ferrell’s. Maybe this is part of the joke, like Veronica Corningstone’s attraction to Ron Burgundy. The film earnestly tries to tell us that making the Eurovision Finale is Iceland’s greatest national achievement. They made the quarter final of the European Championships for goodness sake! However, despite some flashes of inspiration, the film’s real sin is that it pulls its punches, or maybe it just couldn’t work out how to parody a parody.