Will Ferrell is a wonderfully weird and committed actor. Like a dog with a bone when he latches onto a part he doesn’t let go, come hell or high water. When it works, it really works, and the result is an indelible comedic creation like the deluded Ron Burgundy that not only makes us laugh but also reveals the character’s humanity. When it doesn’t work, as in “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” now streaming on Netflix, it is all commitment and little humanity.
Ferrell plays Lars, a middle-aged Icelander whose love for the Eurovision Song Contest began in 1974 when he dancing in front of the TV, much to his father’s (Pierce Brosnan) chagrin, to ABBA’s winning performance of “Waterloo.” No one believes in his musical dreams except for his childhood friend Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), who loves him even though her affections don’t seem to be reciprocated. She believes in elves and drops little pearls of wisdom like, “Anger cannot churn butter.”
Together they are Fire Saga, a synth-pop duo who play to crowds at the local pub who only want to hear songs like “Ja Ja Ding Dong,” and not the “real music” Lars writes. Through a series of unlikely events they stumble into a spot on the Eurovision show. Lars’ father doesn’t want them to go. “All of Iceland will laugh at you,” he says. Undeterred, Lars soldiers on. “I have to become an international star to prove to my very handsome father and all of Iceland that I have not wasted my life.”
Lars and Sigrit’s experiences in their tiny fishing village of Húsav´ík do not prepared them for the cutthroat world of Eurovision. Will predatory singers, like Russian superstar Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens with a George Michael frosted-tip bouffant), and stage mishaps dampen Lars’ dreams of Eurovision fame?
“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” should be a lot funnier than it is. It’s a little too loving of Eurovision’s kitschy spectacle to be a satire; a little too sincere to be truly silly, despite Ferrell’s ridiculous hair and even more outlandish sweaters. The comedy is further blunted by the film’s main conceit, that Lars and Sigrit are talentless wannabees. “We all know they are awful,” says the local Húsav´ík cop, “but they are our awful.” Thing is, in context, they fit like a puzzle piece next to the other over-the-top acts the movie showcases.
Ferrell brings the usual commitment to his trademarked arrogant man-child character but never pushes the characterization much beyond the way the townsfolk see him. “Lars is weird,” they all say, and Ferrell obliges, playing the character as the result of a damaged psyche—he feels unwanted by his father—and just a little too much confidence. It’s familiar ground for him and us.
McAdams feels like an odd choice to play opposite Ferrell’s exaggerated character. She’s good, but her more natural performance feels like it belongs in another movie.
The real Eurovision Song Contest won’t be happening this year, another victim of COVID-19, so perhaps “The Story of Fire Saga” will fill that gap for fans. If you tune in expect some scattered good moments. Ferrell delivers a few laughs and Stevens has fun but Lars and Sigrit’s protracted love story pushes the movie to an unwieldy 123 minutes with not quite enough laughs to justify the running time.