Will Ferrell’s been my favorite comedian for some time now, but it’s been getting harder and harder to maintain my love for his special brand of humor over these last few years. Compared to the unpredictable and adventurous spirit of films like Casa de mi padre, Stranger Than Fiction, the Anchormans, and more, Ferrell’s recent leading stints have felt uncharacteristically safe and bland. While his part in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is another big letdown, Rachel McAdams saves the day alongside catchy music that’ll worm its way into your ears and nest there for days (weeks, months) after watching.
Probably unbeknownst to my fellow American plebs (I had no knowledge of it before seeing the movie), the Eurovision Song Contest part of Fire Saga, high-falutin eccentricities and all, is a very real thing across the pond. It’s like an international American Idol high on the sugariest of flamboyant crack—perfect bait for the sorts of personalities starring in a comedy of this ilk.
Ferrell and McAdams play two of these weirdos, longtime friends Lars and Sigrit. Scorned by their village, the two dream of nothing more than to validate their musical abilities on the show. When they manage to score a spot on its upcoming season as representatives of Iceland, Lars and Sigrit are wooed by the glitz, glamour, and divisive seductions of the competition.
I’ll admit that’s not a great synopsis, but that’s because Fire Saga is plagued by writing so meandering and unfocused that it’s hard to say what the film is really about. It’s got good bones, setting up a solid premise centered around the competition and some great potential in its two leads characters, just not a homed-in direction to advance everything from there.
Well, sort of. While the film’s jokes are very hit or miss (the more absurd they get, they better they tend to be) and Ferrell and Andrew Steele’s screenplay could do with some additional polish (as it is, it actually isn’t that bad), Ferrell’s truly terrible performance plagues Fire Saga with the fervor of a loud and obnoxious cave troll. Ferrell bumbles, stumbles, and becomes more unlikable in every passing second he’s onscreen as he tramples over his castmates and scenes by going too big—a black hole of charisma. He’s played his fair share of man-children over his career, but Fire Saga marks Ferrell at his very worst with zero of his usual charms to color his character beyond an aggravating and juvenile boorishness.
It’s tough to say whether it’s the writing on Lars’ character or Ferrell himself that’s the problem, but I’d confidently venture a guess that a different actor may have given less hair-pulling results. With his mitts sunk so deep into the creative process of the film from writing to acting to producing, it seems like Ferrell allowed himself to be too tastelessly loose in his inhibitions. Ferrell seems to need a good director like Adam McKay to rein in his comic talents correctly—Fire Saga’s David Dobkin has only previously worked with him in a fun but limited role on Wedding Crashers.
These complaints don’t quite make Fire Saga torturous, though, because there’s still enough good stuff going on to make you wish the film was better. McAdams’ comedic and emotional earnestness made Sigrit a wonderful character I couldn’t get enough of, and Dan Stevens rocks the film with an impeccable performance as the lion-maned competitor from Russia, Alexander Lemtov. In fact, the two were so good together that I found myself wishing the film would subvert itself and explore their relationship in-depth without Lars in the picture. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and not even Stevens’ awesome work as Lemtov could find itself safe from the laziest of jokes and outdated stereotypes.
Still, with McAdams and Stevens lending the film better than average credit, Fire Saga’s amazing soundtrack secures its place as a recommended watch. It’s a genuine banger across the board with tracks featuring an ear-worming array of Swedish and European sounds. Why there’s a random and tediously extensive music number in the middle of the film, I’ll never know, but everywhere else, the music delivers. “Double Trouble’s” catchy pop vibes never get old (and it’s played a lot), the operatic “Lion of Love” slaps hard, and the delightfully stupid innuendos of “Jaja Ding Dong” have refused to leave my head even now over a month after watching the film. Thankfully, Netflix has the perfect ten-hour cure for that.
Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, and a hella good soundtrack keep Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga just out of reach of a destructive Will Ferrell performance.