The Eurovision Song Contest should have always been ripe pickings for a merciless parody. The 64-year-old music competition, which long ago reached a plateau of a 90s time warp where people simply can’t get enough kitschy Eurodance trash, has been prime viewing since its inaugural run. There are the hordes who enthusiastically tune in to cheer on their respective nation and/or maintain a lookout for a diamond-in-the-rough tune, those who are heavily entertained by it in an utterly ironic sense, and then there are the people who cannot even tolerate it through the latter lens. Personally, I fall into the final category, the entire fiasco is nothing short of nails on a chalkboard for me and I have to get away from the screen should anybody stick it on, scrambling out of a nearby window if necessary.
Whatever floats your boat though, essentially. It remains a stalwart of popular culture however you feel about it, and is accordingly appropriate for a fictional examination, which was always going to be comedic (sorry, I don’t think something like a Star Is Born could be taken anywhere near as seriously were it set against the backdrop of this insanely garish popster rivalry). Something darkly intelligent in the vein of Nashville or They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? would be have been a perfect template for sending up the heavily politicised, lowest-common-denominator vocal slugfest. As it goes, the brand new Netflix original comedy doesn’t even approximate anything resembling that spirit, opting instead for inane jokes, pedestrian dialogue, tired slapstick, shameless topical name-dropping and every other excruciating cliche in the book.
Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) is a manbaby from the small town of Husavik in Iceland. Still living under his father’s roof as a middle-aged man and making a meagre salary as a traffic warden, Lars has harboured a fanatical obsession with entering and winning the Eurovision Song Contest ever since he goofily danced to ABBA’s winning performance of Waterloo as a child back in 1974. Along with his best friend Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), Lars makes absolutely dreadful music under the name Fire Saga, replete with tacky Norse mythology-themed costumes and a consummate lack of tonality.
Relentlessly sending out demo tapes to talent hunters and participating in the national pre-selection competition for Eurovision representative, Fire Saga becomes the only available contestants courtesy of some ludicrous freak occurrences. Arriving in the host city of Edinburgh, Lars & Sigrit are beset by numerous obstacles in their quest to take home the gold for Iceland, including a sudden remix of their song, a complicated and haphazard stage design, and the fact that Sigrit has caught the attention of Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a gregarious, overconfident and somewhat oily individual sent as Russia’s entry.
Will Fire Saga persevere and make Iceland and Lars’ critical father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) proud? Will Lars and Sigrit take an ambiguous, non-platonic longing between them into new territory, or will the smooth Russian bastard Alexander steal her away for good? Will Sigrit’s impassioned belief in elves be proven true? You can find out right now on Netflix, but if I were you, I honestly wouldn’t bother.
I’ve liked Will Ferrell in many things. He appears to be something of a polarising figure, but I found his bizarrely deadpan, intermittently explosive schtick to be hilarious in the likes of Old School, Anchorman and Zoolander. Nobody can satisfyingly ride the waves every time though, and that’s the sorry state of affairs we have here. The film simply isn’t funny. In a bizarre opening 180, the characters begin the dialogue speaking Icelandic with English subtitles before sharply diverting into spoken English for the remainder of the picture, albeit with some extremely dodgy Icelandic accents. Perhaps this was supposed to be a random, unexplained alteration for the purposes of hilarity, but it was merely strange and pointless. Attempts are made to get some heavy mileage out of the accentual butchering, but absolutely none of them land save for Pierce Brosnan’s minor turn as Erick Erickssong, Lars’ stern, overbearing and disappointed dad. Brosnan has an innate likeability and a demonstrable comfort in recent years with playing silly roles, and a few genuine snorts of laughter were provided by his surly expressions and brusque putdowns. Maybe that has more to do with an iconically suave and absurdly handsome leading man gleefully poking fun at himself, but it delivered some relief nevertheless.
Like a slew of other comedies in recent years, such as the wildly divergent but still terrible Logan Lucky, Eurovision embeds itself in popular culture references that are ostensibly funny and fresh but will render the film that extra inch awful in future because they will date it. There’s even a lacklustre nod to Game Of Thrones as there is in the aforementioned Lucky (though the former’s example is far worse), complete with ”ironic” anti-American sentiments coming from a Scandinavian character played by an American. This is supplemented by what is arguably the film’s centrepiece/death rattle, the ‘Song-A-Long’, a horrendous auto-tuned medley of pop hits sung by former Eurovision contestants and winners. It’s a ‘Look who we got!’ moment that will be meaningless within a few years, let alone a few decades.
Rachel McAdams’ Sigrit is something of a straight woman to Ferrell’s idiotic eccentric Lars, but even she is sadly incapable of rescuing the debacle. The creators were clearly endeavouring for a kooky and campy lead partnership to gel with the ridiculous nature of proceedings, but it ultimately grates. There is no timing, wit, interesting weirdness or workable poignancy anywhere along the line, try as they might. Like I said at the start of the review, if a filmmaking team had actually attempted to utilise Eurovision as the focal arena for dehumanising spectacle a la Syndey Pollack’s 1969 masterpiece They Shoot Horses… with Ferrell and McAdams being analogous to the Fonda/Sarrazin duo, and infused it with humour that was just gallows enough to drive home a point and just SNL enough to kick some levity in, that would have at least been intriguing and bold. The actual product just ends up making Paul Feig movies seem like uproarious comedy gold by comparison.
To borrow a quote from a sadly missed, trailblazing hero of mine, I ”Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it”. Insipid, far too long, not endearing, not funny, not clever, badly scripted, wastes its talent, jokes written by an unhinged 5-year-old, and if it has accomplished anything, it has made me dislike Eurovision even more. Take a scalding hot bath for a more uplifting experience.