If you’re not familiar with the international singing competition known as the Eurovision Song Contest, the annual event began in 1956 and features competitors from 50 mostly European countries. Points are awarded by each country (you can’t vote for yourself) to help determine the winner. ABBA won the contest in 1974 and it launched the career of Celine Dion after she took top honors in 1988.
There is a running joke that the U.K. can’t win but they did in 1997 when Katrina and the Waves won with “Love Shine a Light.” If the band sounds familiar it’s because they had a hit in America with 1985’s “Walking on Sunshine.”
David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”) captures the extravagance, campiness, and eccentricity of the event with ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” which manages to laugh it up without making fun of the international contest. The director wasn’t familiar with the show until the script by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele landed in his lap. Ferrell became a fan of Eurovision twenty years ago after being introduced to the show by his Swedish wife and he’s been seen at the contest in the past.
Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong, another middle-aged man child which has become the actor’s calling card. Rachel McAdams charms her way back into your heart as Lars’ childhood friend and love interest Sigrit Ericksdottir. Together, they form the Icelandic duo Fire Saga, a band that plays weddings and the local drinking hole where the residents of the sleepy fishing village only want to hear the band’s novelty song “Jaja Ding Dong.”
Pierce Brosnan plays Lars’ stern father Erick, a fisherman who’s embarrassed by his son’s childish behavior and foolish dream of one day winning the Eurovision Song Contest. The dynamic between Ferrell and Brosnan is the same as the comedian’s kinship opposite James Caan in “Elf,” standoffish but eventually they bond, usually in the final act.
By the way, there are elves in this film who Sigrit credits as helping them make it to Eurovision, but it could also be the fact that every talented Icelandic singer just perished in a freak boat accident including the country’s best bet Katiana (nice cameo by Demi Lovato). Still, Sigrit believes the tragedy was no fluke, murmuring “the elves went too far.”
Of course, the film is Ferrell-silly but there is a lot of charm that propels it into “Elf” territory. It’s not raunchy, there are a few penis jokes and a couple of violent images, but it’s a film the whole family can watch together.
As fate has it, Lars and Sigrit make it to the Eurovision finals in Scotland where they meet Russian contest Alexander Lemtov played by the scene-stealing Dan Stevens from “Downton Abbey.” His wavering heavy accent is just as ridiculous as the ones by Ferrell and McAdams, but that’s part of the film’s charm. With his feathered-back George Michael hair, bare chest, and baritone voice, Stevens is a riot as is his song “Lion of Love.”
There are tons of cameos by real Eurovision contestants including Salvador Sobral (Portugal), John Lundvik (Sweden), and Netta from Israel who resembles a character from Cartoon Network. Almost no one here in the states will recognize them although European audiences went bonkers during a test screening. One of the film’s highlights is a Song-A-Long where the singers take turns performing a medley that includes “Believe” by Cher, “Ray of Light” by Madonna, “Waterloo” by ABBA, and the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” I could watch that scene over and over again.
As expected, the film is over the top and brimming with stupid humor, but its charm transcends the absurdity as do the best Will Ferrell films. I loved Rachel McAdams as the anti-Regina George who steals your heart as Sigrit. She doesn’t appear in many comedies but when she does, as in “Game Night” opposite Jason Bateman, it’s a win-win situation.
My only problem with the film is its 121-minute running time. It drags a bit in the middle and could have benefited from a good edit. Otherwise, “Eurovision” is funny, charming, and a good way to forget about the world’s problems.
Streaming now on Netflix