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Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams star in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.Elizabeth Viggiano/Netflix

  • Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
  • Directed by David Dobkin
  • Written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele
  • Starring Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams and Pierce Brosnan
  • Classification PG; 123 minutes

Rating:

2 out of 4 stars


What happened, Will Ferrell? By my measure, it has been a solid decade since you’ve headlined a comedy that worked: 2010′s The Other Guys. Since then, there have been amusing supporting parts (HBO’s Eastbound & Down), solid voice work (The Lego Movie) and so many cameos that I’m suspicious of how many people in the comedy industry might be blackmailing you. (That said, your bit on last year’s Between Two Ferns: The Movie was the best of ‘em.)

But your top-billed performances these past 10 years? Those have all landed with the pffffft-plop splat of someone who knows that he can do so much better but prefers the easy payday (The House, Holmes & Watson, the execrable Daddy’s Home franchise).

I say all these hard truths, by the way, as a devoted Ferrell acolyte. Someone who owns all three volumes of Saturday Night Live’s The Best of Will Ferrell Collection, who has memorized unreasonable chunks of Anchorman, who will go to bat for the severely underrated and misunderstood Land of the Lost (maybe this hurts my credibility rather than bolsters it) and who will proselytize about the supreme genius of Step Brothers until the end of time.

I have a few theories as to why you’ve been stumbling, Will – if I may call you Will, although I’m certain that I cannot. Most of them centre around the fact that you’ve officially parted ways with director Adam McKay, the filmmaker responsible for your best work in deconstructing the psyche of the average American male (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys). The other reason might be your inability to pass up the chance to work with such screen icons as (squints at notes) ... Mel Gibson? Well, at least your attempts to dig a little deeper into the dramatic side of things, including this past winter’s Downhill, are ambitious, if in need of more focus. But for goodness’ sake, man, you need to take a serious look at your comedic decisions.

Ferrell and McAdams play an Icelandic duo with dreams of Eurovision pop stardom.John Wilson/Netflix

Which brings us, Will, to your latest film, Eurovision Song Contest: The Saga of Fire Song, whose title is matched in its unnecessary length only by the film’s own dragged-out duration. For 123 very long minutes, you take audiences on an allegedly hilarious journey through the ins and outs of the long-time international music competition in the hopes that unfamiliar continental culture will automatically equate to North American-primed comedy. But while parts of the very real, incredibly popular Eurovision contest straddle the line between the tacky and the wacky, it is not enough to just throw familiar actors on-screen, have them attempt foreign accents, dress them up in gaudy garb and hope that somehow constitutes humour.

I can imagine, Will, how your script, co-written with your old SNL colleague Andrew Steele, started – with the two of you simply jotting down the word “Eurotrash” and hoping that inspiration would go the distance. Regrettably, your film concentrates on the latter half of that portmanteau.

At least you and director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) decided to cast the comedy well enough. Obviously you’re the lead, playing an Icelandic doofus with dreams of Eurovision stardom named ... sigh ... Lars Erickssong. But you had the good sense to convince the consistently delightful Rachel McAdams to play your love interest and fellow musician, Sigrit Ericksdottir — and as someone who will take absolutely any opportunity to hype up the delights of the actress’s 2018 film Game Night, this provides me just another chance to praise the charms of the Canadian performer, who is Hollywood’s secret comedy weapon.

Dan Stevens attempts a Russian accent as a singer named Alexander Lemtov.John Wilson/Netflix

And hey, Dan Stevens and Pierce Brosnan are here, too. Sure, they are also saddled with slippery, near-offensive European accents — Icelandic for Pierce, Russian for Dan — but they seem to be having a good enough time, and I’m sure the on-set catering was decent.

Listen, Will: The film, your first with streaming giant Netflix (which maybe says something about the state of your brand of big-screen comedies, or maybe not), isn’t a total disaster. There are moments where you and Dobkin embrace the surreal — I’m thinking of the bit with the murderous elves and the charred-corpse ghost (yes) — that hint at a better, more interesting kind of absurdist comedy. And the songs are catchy, too, even though we’re supposed to think Lars and Sigrit are untalented hacks, which is a conceit that the film never treats with consistency.

But Eurovision Song Contest, whose title you are never, ever going to convince me to write out in full again, is not your comeback movie. It’s barely a movie at all. But at the same time, if this prevented a third Daddy’s Home from making its cursed way into our world, then I suppose it was a worthwhile endeavour.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Saga of Fire Song – dang it, I wrote the full title again – is available to stream on Netflix starting June 26

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