The annual Eurovision Song Contest is a fever dream like no other. A 50-ish-country competition to create the best tune, in past years it has featured scary horror masks, a Russian number saluting grandmas and a German ode to Genghis Khan. Hundreds of millions of people watch, and hardly any of the songs ever make it onto American radio. (This year’s contest was COVID-canceled.)
It’s an event so absurd that we now have a Will Ferrell movie about it.
His “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is a terribly funny sendup of the show that famously gave us “Waterloo” by ABBA in 1974, and now gives us a year’s supply of crazy. The Netflix film is the most enjoyable music industry parody since Christopher Guest’s folk satire “A Mighty Wind.”
Fire Saga is an Icelandic duo — Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) — that plays the local pub in the tiny town of Húsavik. Lars, who has dreamed of Eurovision glory since childhood, tests out new songs like “Volcano Man” there, but the drunks won’t have it. “Play ‘Jaja Ding Dong’!” they shout at him of their preferred local ditty.
But thanks to a series of madcap accidents, Fire Saga becomes Iceland’s contest entry, advancing to the next stage of the competition in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Iceland is a sharp pick for Ferrell and co-writer Andrew Steele. The country has never once won Eurovision in its 64-year history, and its 364,000-strong population makes them roughly the size of Tampa, Florida.
The nation has also become an inexpensive vacation spot for Americans, who are learning about its endless quirks. Half of its residents believe in magical elves, for example, and there is an “incest prevention” phone app due to the likelihood that romantic partners in the island country might be related.
Lars and Sigrit are often asked if they’re brother and sister.
“We’re probably not,” Lars replies.
The mischievous little elves make a cameo, too.
Director David Dobkin’s movie is not a takedown, though, with a story that’s sweeter than expected. As Lars and Sigrit get their first taste of fame, their bond is strengthened by the glitzy world of showbiz. A major obstacle comes when a maybe-metrosexual Russian pop star, Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), tries to bed Sigrit. The hilarious Stevens, shedding his “Downton Abbey” fineries, looks like a combination of Yanni and Salt Bae.
Lars is also always out to please his grumpy pop, Erick (Pierce Brosnan), who wishes he’d give up his silly musical aspirations and join the family fishing business.
How unexpected that a long-haired Icelandic townie, who warms up in full-body Spandex while using a Shake Weight, would be the role to ground Ferrell. With the help of Iceland’s more reserved attitude, Ferrell turns out a performance that’s highly amusing but never excessive. McAdams, who is always welcome in comedies, is so real and kind that her belief in Lars makes us believe in his totally insane aims, too.
The biggest stars here, though, are the songs. “Volcano Man,” Stevens’ “Lion of Love” and “In the Mirror,” performed by Demi Lovato, all embody that unique Eurovision mix of catchy hooks and wacky performances. And, during a sequence that seems born of an acid trip, Ferrell, McAdams, Stevens and real Eurovision winners sing a medley of Cher’s “Believe” and Madonna’s “Ray of Light.” One of these upbeat tracks could be your song of the summer, or sumar in Icelandic.
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