eurovision song contest the story of fire saga review

America is no stranger to the outsized singing contest. We’re a country that made American Idol the top-rated show for years and we can thank The X-Factor for creating beloved boy bands like One Direction. Glee and Pitch Perfect were bonafide cultural phenomenons. But every year, across the pond, something strange and outlandish takes place that we still struggle to wrap our heads around: the musical smorgasmord that is the Eurovision Song Contest.

Each year since 1956, at least 50 European countries compete against each other in a televised singing competition that many joke is the only reason a third world war hasn’t broken out. In a competition so steeped in international politics (the voting often aligns with decades-old alliances) and televised live across the continent, you would think Eurovision is an austere affair. But instead, the performances are flashy spectacle verging on camp, with countries seemingly doing their darndest to outdo each other in visual grandeur. Do Europeans take it seriously? Is there an actual political meaning to it all? Could Americans possibly hope to understand what the deal is with this contest? Forget it, Jake, it’s Eurovision.

Enter Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, the two stars of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, reunited with Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin. The farcical Netflix comedy seems to be as much a well-intentioned parody of Eurovision as it is an outlet for Ferrell and Dobkin to try to figure out just what the hell Eurovision is. They never really find out, and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga ends up a messy, incoherent comedy for it.

The problem is, you can’t make a satire of something as incomprehensible (to us Americans) as Eurovision. Satire of something so patently ridiculous and yet incredibly sincere is difficult, much like how political satire these days fall flat as reality moves beyond parody. Eurovision may not be beyond parody, but Dobkin and screenwriter Andrew Steele approach the song contest from far too simplistic a perspective.

Eurovision Song Contest follows Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (McAdams), two aspiring Icelandic musicians who dream only of competing in the Eurovision Song Contest. The contest saved both of them, you see — ABBA’s historic 1974 performance brought them together as children, with Lars inspired to become a singer as fabulous as the Swedish group and the then-mute Sigrit coming out of her shell and learning to speak. Now 30 years later, the two of them play their Eurovision audition songs for a disgruntled audience at the only rundown bar in their small fishing town. But after a stroke of luck and a freak accident that kills the country’s real contender (a wasted Demi Lovato) — which may or may not have been orchestrated by a heartless Icelandic jury member — Lars and Sigrit get their chance to not only compete in Eurovision, but make it into the finals.

There are shades of better comedies in Eurovision Song Contest, which feels like it’s attempting to be the next Walk Hard in its spectacularly goofy tone and sharp critique of the music industry. (And in its surprisingly good satirical songs that are catchier than some real pop songs.) But Eurovision Song Contest can’t hope to skewer the real-life contest as effectively as Walk Hard does the music biopic, only because it doesn’t seem to understand what the appeal of Eurovision is. So Eurovision Song Contest switches gears halfway through the film, opting for an ironic sincerity reminiscent of the Pitch Perfect series that could be mistaken for genuine sincerity (there is even a Pitch Perfect-esque “song a long” in which all the competitors participate in a cheery series of covers at an after-party). The tone gets confused when Eurovision Song Contest goes out of its way to pay homage to the real Eurovision contest by parading past winners through the aforementioned “song a long” scene, and by giving McAdams’ Sigrit an affecting emotional journey as she must choose between her lifelong singing partner and unrequited love Lars or Dan Stevens‘ talented Russian singer who offers her a chance at a real music career.

The one thing this movie has going for it, though, is McAdams, who gets to show off her comedy chops once again after proving that she was a comedic force to reckon with in Game Night. McAdams is a bit more one-note in Eurovision Song Contest, given a rather flat character of the naive, eternally patient Sigrit, but she’s so effervescent and amazing that you wish you could watch her the entire time. Ferrell is as expected, cycling through the motions of his standard bullish man-child character that he’s played so many times in his career, only now with an awkward Icelandic accent. Stevens is the other standout, having a blast as a hammy, closeted Russian singer who puts on a show of his hypermasculinity with his every appearance.

Eurovision Song Contest feels a little creaky, as if the formula of the outsized man-child comedy is starting to wear thin. Dobkin’s attempts to give the formula new life by merging it with a satire, but it’s a satire that doesn’t know what to make fun of or who to skewer. Instead, we get awkward and unnecessary digs at Asian accents (and an inaccurate imitation of a Korean accent at that) instead.

The problem is that Eurovision Song Contest can’t dream of capturing the real-life weirdness of Eurovision. And while there’s some chuckles that can be drawn out of McAdams and Ferrell lip syncing a surprisingly catchy song while running through a hamster wheel, there’s only so much fun that can be made of a televised singing contest where weirder things have happened.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10

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