THE STORY – Two small-town singers chase their pop star dreams at a global music competition, where scheming rivals, high stakes and onstage mishaps test their bond.
THE CAST – Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Melissanthi Mahut, Mikael Persbrandt, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Graham Norton, Demi Lovato & Pierce Brosnan
THE TEAM – David Dobkin (Director), Will Ferrell & Andrew Steele (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 123 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
Eurovision is a uniquely European experience that many Americans don’t truly understand. My first experience with it was watching it from an airport hotel room in Edinburgh one summer during college on my way home from a semester abroad. So I was personally thrilled to see that David Dobkin’s “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is set in Edinburgh, as unlikely as that might be. Unfortunately, the setting is indicative of a major flaw in the film: it feels like a very American take on the international song contest.
Written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele, the film is about Icelandic singers Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), who are chosen to represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest. And even if it doesn’t capture the true spirit of the event that it’s about, it’s more fun than expected.
In case you don’t know, Eurovision is an annual song competition through the European Broadcasting Union that first started in 1956. Each participating country (primarily European countries, plus Australia) sends a musical act to compete and each country then casts votes to determine a winner.
The movie opens in 1974 in Husavik, Iceland, with a young Lars (Alfie Melia) enraptured by watching ABBA perform on Eurovision. He vows that he will appear on the show one day, despite the laughter of the crowd of townspeople and the disapproval of his stern father, played by a very handsome silver-haired Pierce Brosnan. The movie flashes forward to a middle-aged Lars and Sigrit, who are still trying to make their musical dreams happen with little success. Sigrit’s mother (Elín Petersdóttir) thinks that Lars is holding her back, but Sigrit has (unrequited) feelings for her music partner.
Lars and Sigrit (or Fire Saga, as their band is called) are chosen to perform in Iceland’s pre-selection competition. Despite other acts being much better than theirs (including Demi Lovato as the winner Katiana), unfortunate circumstances result in them being sent to represent Iceland at Eurovision. The movie really becomes fun once the duo gets to Edinburgh, with fun cameos of past Eurovision contestants.
Lars is too focused on winning to enjoy himself or listen to Sigrit’s feedback on what she thinks they should do. Meanwhile, Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), the wealthy and flamboyant contestant from Russia, is paying a lot of attention to her. Stevens is easily the highlight of the film, which understands that he is at his best as a quirky character actor.
The movie is, in many ways, what you would expect from a Will Ferrell comedy. It’s very campy and fun with bad Icelandic accents, Ferrell performing “Happy” in the town bar, and a plotline involving the elves that Sigrit prays to. At one point, a character mentions “our beautiful Husavik,” and then two whales raise out of the water and twirl.
It’s at its best during the musical numbers, as any musical should be. The songs are better than you might expect and the Oscar-nominated “Husavik (My Hometown)” has an actual emotional impact. I also admire a musical that isn’t afraid to dub its actors with talented singers. (Both Stevens and McAdams’s singing is dubbed.)
However, the film also has a whole host of issues, not the least of which is that it doesn’t fully understand Eurovision or even delve into its more fun aspects like the Eurovision Village. It’s at least a half-hour too long at two hours long and has some dumb moments of humor that fall flat. The romantic plotline between Lars and Sigrit feels like it gets in the way of the bigger story being told and feels odd considering how unlikeable Lars is. The movie would be better off without the character of Lars and the unconvincing romance.
But I do love to see an addition to the cinematic universe of Pierce Brosnan movies that include the ABBA song “Waterloo.” The film is more fun than it has any right to be, despite its many flaws. If you’re interested in a fun, dumb comedy with catchy songs and some gorgeous shots of Iceland, then “Eurovision Song Contest” is a harmless way to spend a couple of hours.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Dan Stevens and Rachel McAdams give really fun and committed camp performances and the songs are, admittedly, bops.
THE BAD – A lot of the humor simply isn’t funny, it’s about a half-hour too long, and the film would be stronger if Will Ferrell’s character had been played by someone else or eliminated entirely.