Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Rachel McAdams Shines But Will Ferrell Struggles In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Each year, the Eurovision Song Contest (which is an actual thing) brings together musical talent from all of the European countries and has them compete to see who can deliver the greatest showstopper musical performance. It's an event that Icelandic natives Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) have been preparing for their entire lives. They've always carried ambitions of taking their unconventional musical act to Eurovision. Such hopes have been frowned upon by their friends and neighbors, particularly Lars' father Erick (Pierce Brosnan). But when this duo gets a chance to actually perform during Eurovision, it seems like their dreams are finally going to come true.

Unfortunately, some personal problems provide cortical stumbling blocks. Among these issues is Sigrit's desire to become more romantically committed to Lars. Lars, however, only wants to focus on his music. This conflict between the two leads of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is pretty much what you'd expect from a rags-to-riches musical competition story. However, despite being a Will Ferrell comedy, Eurovision actually treats this problem between Lars and Sigrit relatively seriously. It's all part and parcel with how Eurovision actually wants to be a heartfelt underdog tale. In other words, Eurovision wants to be more of an Eddie the Eagle than a Get Hard.

That doesn't mean there aren't attempts at laughs in here, though what we do get tend to feel shoehorned in as if screenwriters Ferrell and Andrew Steele got worried audiences would tune out if there wasn't a sex joke every fifteen minutes. A pushed over port-a-potty, jokes about stuffing one's genitalia, and an extended riff on Lars committing to have sex with everyone in a single room all seemingly come from another movie. These are the kind of jokes you'd expect to find in a Ferrell comedy, but their awkward presence in the movie speaks to Eurovision's biggest problem: its leading man.

Everyone else in the cast of Eurovision is committed to the bit of taking a ludicrous underdog story and playing it as a straightforward inspirational yarn. That doesn't mean the rest of the cast is devoid of humor. However, their gags tend to stem from oversized personalities or strong comedic timing. Meanwhile, Ferrell's performance as Lars always feels out of step with the rest of the movie. Whether it's his accent or the way he delivers certain jokes, Ferrell always seems to be treating the proceedings with a sense of ironic detachment. This doesn't just make him an odd presence in the cast. It also makes it harder to really be interested in the inevitable third act "all is lost" moment for Lars. Ferrell hasn't made this character a convincing enough human being for me to care about the plight of Lars like Eurovision clearly wants me to.

Meanwhile, trying to cram in jokes that fit in with the traditional rowdy gags Ferrell is known for means that the script for Eurovision struggles to find balance. The production is constantly torn between doing a sincere take on this story and something more ironic. Plus, it's 123 minutes long and boy is that not a proper runtime for something like this. On the plus side, Eurovision does allow Rachel McAdams to once again prove her gift for comedy. McAdams gets the best line deliveries in the whole movie, with a recurring gag revolving around her characters' devotion to elves being a particular highlight.

Dan Stevens also turns in commendable work in the supporting role of Alexander Lemtov. In the part of an egocentric hunk, Stevens follows in the footsteps of Chris Evans and Chris Pine by once again showing that handsome leading men fare best playing supporting weirdos. He's a riot while both Stevens and McAdams have enough actual acting chops to lend at least a surface layer of commitment to moments where Eurovision wants you to take its story seriously. Watching over this cast is director David Dobkin, whose tasked with executing a number of musical performances, including one outright musical number in the form of a "song-along", over the runtime of Eurovision. Clearly, this is a more lavish affair than prior Dobkin directorial efforts like Fred Claus.

In handling such grandiose sequences, Dobkin opts to imitate the kind of camerawork you'd see in any televised talent show while the "song-along" set piece is filmed in a manner that kept reminding me of the music video for Weird Al's Tacky. The direction in Eurovision isn't especially inspired but at least it lends an appropriate sense of bombast to the proceedings. Similarly lending a sumptuous quality to Eurovision are the colorful costumes, with McAdams getting a number of particularly memorable and vibrant outfits. Eurovision is certainly a more well put together affair than many recent Will Ferrell vehicles as well as most Netflix feature film comedies. However, Eurovision's tonal issues and overlong runtime really keep it from being music to one's ears. At least this movie gave the world Dan Stevens as Alexander Lemtov, though, that's certainly not nothing!

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