If you're American, it is very possible you have never heard of Eurovision. I admittedly never had until seeing this film. But to those in Europe, this would be a fascinating detail to discover, as Eurovision is every bit a part of Europe's pop culture as, say, NASCAR is in America. You may not watch NASCAR or be a fan of it, but you know it's there. Having been around for DECADES in Europe, Eurovision is a televised international song contest (think "American Idol" or "The Voice" only bigger) that averages roughly 200 million viewers per year.
Knowing that Eurovision is something that really exists may in turn be a fun fact for Americans to discover, however this inherent disconnect with an American audience makes the new Netflix comedy "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" ("ESC:TSOFS") hard to grasp.
Will Ferrell stars, produced and co-wrote this movie, knowing that it would appeal to an international market while simultaneously hoping that Americans would be enamored with how big a thing Eurovision really is. He plays Icelandic Eurovision-hopeful, Lars Erickssong, who along with his best friend and platonic partner, Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) makes up the music group "Fire Saga." On a fluke, they become Iceland's official entry into the Eurovision Song Contest, and this movie tells their underdog story. The film also stars Pierce Brosnan as Ferrell's disapproving dad, and Dan Stevens as the flamboyant Russian phenom artist, Alexander Lemtov, the favorite to win it all.
There are familiar elements within "ESC:TSOFS" that should be recognizable to those that like Will Ferrell and have followed him throughout all of his films, for better or worse. But right from the jump, the movie feels a bit too wacky and odd to even begin to invest in. From Will's outfits and his long hair, to the ridiculous accents that he, McAdams and pretty much every character throughout the film uses, this movie feels more like one of those failed SNL films (like "A Night at the Roxbury" for example) that was stretched from a funny skit, but that doesn't hold up upon being fleshed out.
And there's a lot of flesh here. At over 2 hours, this is a prime example of a comedy that could have been cut down and made tighter, and it may have been vastly improved. Instead, you continue to follow along with Fire Saga knowing all the notes the movie will hit well before the characters do, and you keep asking yourself, is this Eurovision thing really real?
Apparently there are several Easter eggs included for fans of the real Eurovision, little nods that will likely go unnoticed by us uninitiated. Because of that - and the general looniness of the film as a whole - you tend to want to give it a break, knowing that there's probably a lot more going on over our heads than we're able to pick up on. But that doesn't make it a good experience. And if the film was generally funnier, I think that most would forgive the strange subject matter and would be more welcome to spending over two hours inside of this universe.
"Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" isn't inclusive...in other words, it doesn't really help pull you into this world, and it seems to be maximized for those already living in it. Rachel McAdams is a treasure, in that you watch her and are constantly amazed and impressed by how dedicated she is even given the material. Dan Stevens is also mesmerizing in a strange way, and Will Ferrell gives us what we expect. If that sounds like enough for you, then go ahead and give this film a try. I just don't think too many American audiences unfamiliar with Eurovision will find it worth it to turn their chair around.
Genre: Comedy, Music.
Run Time: 2 hours and 3 minutes.
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Pierce Brosnan, Natasia Demetriou, Demi Lovato.
Written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele
Directed by David Dobkin ("The Judge," "The Change-Up," "Fred Claus," "Wedding Crashers").
"Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" is available on Netflix as of Friday, June 26th, 2020.
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