Will Ferrell’s incendiary wildman charisma has generated a storied career for the former SNL funnyman, headlining uproarious vehicles like Anchorman, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers with his distinct energetic sensibility. His once-celebrated style is now enduring a career freefall, as a mixture of laugh-free comedies (Holmes and Watson) and unremarkable career deviations (Downhill) failed to gain traction. Ferrell’s latest endeavor Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga signals a mild return to form for the comedic stalwart, but the project can’t overcome its bombastic tendencies.
Eurovision Song Contest follows Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), two outcast Icelanders growing up with a dream to represent their country in Europe’s notable singing contest. When the opportunity stumbles in front of them, the two battle to prove themselves as their friendship gets tested by their new-found fame.
Utilizing a unique premise that highlights a colorfully theatrical event, stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams clearly relish the opportunity to explore their oft-kilter characters. Ferrel’s shameless dedication to his craft renders laughter throughout, with his spirited shouts and untamed physicality selling even the most obtuse gags. McAdams’ effervescent flair rarely gets proper attention, as she portrays Sigrit’s bubbly, yet assured personality with warmth and comedic impact. Both actors imbue Lars and Sigrit with a child-like innocence that endears them to audiences, grounding what could have been over-the-top caricatures in lesser hands.
Eurovision excels when its central stars are in the spotlight. The opening act wisely focuses on their ragtag dynamic, as the two quirky cast-offs explore their creative avenue in an effort to earn the respect of their quaint town. There’s a folksy outcast spirit to their pursuit that I genuinely admired, as the film portrays Iceland’s idiosyncratic culture without being overly-mawkish. The eccentricities that writer Andrew Steele enhances the script with stand out as the film’s comedic highlights, adding much-needed flavor to the studio comedy design (a certain pop icon appears as a decaying ghost warning Lars throughout the narrative).
It’s once the story kicks into gear where issues begin to arise. Director David Dobkin crafts some opulent musical set pieces, but the story sandwiched between them follows uninspired plot conventions to a tee. Contrived conflicts separate Lars and Sigrit for much of the second half, robbing its appealing core of screentime while introducing a melody of one-joke side characters (Dan Stevens in an energetic, yet underwritten supporting role as a dashing singer). Making matters worse is the project’s bloated final form, as the simplistic premise is stretched to a wholly unnecessary and unsustainable 2-hour run time.
Eurovision also wastes a sizable opportunity to display deeper thematic ruminations. Most of Ferrell’s best work has doubled as sly commentaries on specific sectors, whether its Talladega Nights’ skewering of NASCAR’s conservative culture or Step Brother‘s humorous mockery of the manchild subgenre. The roots of Eurovision’s narrative displays a critique on music’s over-glorified presentation, with showmanship often masking a dearth of substance and emotionality. This idea is butchered with the script’s obvious handling, essentially spelling this idea out in the third act without any grace or build-up.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga has glitz and glamour to spare, but this uneven comedy can’t match the talents of its uniquely-fitted stars.
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