Even though EuroVision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga hails from director David Dobkin and is co-written by star Will Ferrell, the film is a far cry from the best work of either talent. Instead of a comedy that reaches the heights of the popular Wedding Crashers or the classic Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, we’re instead left with something painfully forgettable like The Change-Up or Semi-Pro. Watching EuroVision is a frequently frustrating experience because you can see how all the elements could be combined in to a far more memorable feature. Ferrell has good chemistry with his co-star Rachel McAdams. A competition comedy set in the world of the real-life EuroVision song contest is unique and makes for some colorful characters and catchy pop music. And yet at over two hours, EuroVision drags through obvious plot points and rarely pushes for anything imaginative. Great comedies are built on surprising the audience, and EuroVision plays it safe at almost every turn.
Since they were kids, Icelanders Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (McAdams) have dreamed of winning the EuroVision Song Contest, a competition where various countries send their best musical acts to compete for fame and glory. Lars and Sigrit’s act, Fire Saga, has pretty good music, but Lars is too much of a doofus for the band to gain any traction. However, he’s so obsessed with winning that he fails to notice that Sigrit is in love with him. When they randomly luck into going to EuroVision (I won’t spoil how since that’s one of the movie’s few good jokes), they see the chance to realize their dream, but face new friction as Russia’s contestant, Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), comes between them and old resentments bubble to the surface.
From a plot standpoint, EuroVision should be a slam dunk as it uses the easy formula of the competition movie, but Ferrell and co-writer Andrew Steele pile way too much stuff into the movie. There’s too much of Lars and Sigrit coming together and breaking apart, and the problem with the pacing issues affect the film because a story like this requires momentum. If you’re making a movie about pop music, your film needs to be poppy, and EuroVisionfrequently drags. There are long scenes where the jokes aren’t landing and the characters aren’t developing, and the film stops dead in its tracks, which isn’t great since we know where this kind of film is going. Oh, Lars has a strained relationship with his disapproving father (Pierce Brosnan)? I wonder if in the third act they’ll have a reconciliation that spurs Lars to fulfill his destiny.
I don’t necessarily mind that the plot points are so staid, but if you’re going to be narratively predictable, then the comedy should shine through. That’s not to say that EuroVision needs to be a spoof along the lines of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but a safe narrative foundation should allow room to maneuver with more outlandish jokes, and EuroVision rarely goes there. It’s a film that seems unsure of how silly it wants to go with the EuroVision formula—is this a competition we should take very seriously or is it a way to tell a story about two dreamers making Icelandic pop music—and that indecision leaves the film feeling adrift. I understand they want us to invest in the emotional stakes between Lars and Sigrit, and to their credit, Ferrell and McAdams make us buy into that relationship. But looking at the scope of the movie, EuroVision seems like its aching to go broad only to be reeled back in to the level of “Lars is asking Sigrit to wear a funny costume and she doesn’t like it,” and “Lars’ codpiece is getting too close to some audience members.”
EuroVision is more comfortable when it’s simply a movie about two dreamers who learn that what they really want in life is to be with each other, and on that level, it’s a sweet story. The problems come when the film wants to be funny, and there it fails to serve the comedic talents of its cast or its premise. The songs are good, and I’d like to see Ferrell and McAdams reunite in a better picture, but EuroVision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is yet another forgettable Netflix comedy starring A-list talent.