Rated PG-13 for sexual jokes, situations, coupled with mild violence and language. I actually had a hard time remembering if this movie was PG-13 or R. I simply assume with a Will Ferrell movie that it is going to be R. But there's actually not all that much objectionable content. I suppose my favorite joke is slightly ribald, but it might actually be a pretty valid PG-13 rating. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: David Dobkin
My wife is really into puzzles. Not jigsaw puzzles (although she is insanely obsessed with those too). Nope. I'm talking about the stuff that is like escape room thinking. She loves books where she has to rip sections out. She would do really well in a National Treasure sequel, is all I'm saying. Because she's so into puzzles, once a year, she participates in MIT's puzzle hunt, which is very smart people making very difficult puzzles. One of the puzzles a few years back involved my wife watching so many Eurovision participants that she became very well versed in the entire Eurovision culture. (That's right. Some smartypants decided to hide a puzzle inside the Eurovision Song Contest and my wife decided to take that puzzle on.
So I thought that Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga would be up both our alleys. My wife dug it. I left kind of "meh." I think a lot of people left Eurovision a little meh. I realized recently that a lot of people can't stand Will Ferrell. He's a comic genius and these people are wrong. But I also realize that Will Ferrell is in a place in his career where he will make movies that he finds funny, even if other people don't find them hilarious. When I saw a Will Ferrell film, I always knew that I would be in for something special. But there are so many things about Eurovision that are kind of unpolished, especially compared to some of his greater outings. The short version is that, if you don't find his Lars character hilarious, you better wait around for someone of the better jokes to distract you.
What I realized is that Ferrell really relies on the competition formula to drive his movies. Even with Anchorman, it has that moment where the news teams compete to be the most popular. But he's got so many movies that I'm tempted to call sports movies. (Blades of Glory, Semipro, Talladega Nights, etc.) What these movies really present is just an opportunity to plop in a character that he's been working on and allowing the rest of the movie to write itself. Yeah, there are great jokes surrounding the bare-bones formula. But there's definitely a wide difference between the tightly knit formula of something like Anchorman or Step-Brothers and the occasional great joke that might show up in Eurovision.
I was going to write this whole long thing about why Will Ferrell keeps relying on the sports genre to tell the same story. I think I covered that pretty well. He feels comfortable with the format. These characters are always cocky blowhards who are really losers. There's always that family issue that explains why this character tries so hard for acceptance. But we don't actually feel real connection with these characters. Really, by this point, the major story elements are telegraphed so hard. We know from moment one of Pierce Brosnan's Erick Erickssong that he's going to claim that he doesn't have a child, only to embrace his vocation by the end of the film. It's really his relationship with Sigrit that has any kind of degree of originality, and even that is pretty scant.
Sigrit, because she has a very confusing backstory, gives the audience at least something to gleam onto. Her character, for some reason, was mute as a child and it makes her relationship with Lars have fundamental value. The town views Lars as a loser because he is a goofball who continually fails, like many of Ferrell's characters. But because Lars befriended Sigrit, he got her to not only talk, but to sing. I think the movie really wanted to make the movie about Sigrit. There's this theme throughout the story of Sigrit and her voice, but it kind of gets buried under Lars's goofballery. If you had to squint and find something poetic, it's a mute traumatized girl learning to not only speak, but participating in the Eurovision Song Contest. Okay. I know that this is not exactly a vulnerable film, but it doesn't hurt to have a connection to the character. But instead, the movie really muddles its message about Sigrit.
Her character is always tied to the song "Waterloo" by ABBA. It's a hilarious choice and I adore that the movie picked it. But Sigrit's call to unhappiness is also represented by this song. Lars, as a pushy male lead, ignores Sigrit's pain, but the film doesn't effectively define what is upsetting Sigrit. It's part of being overlooked, which ties into the quiet child sitting at the table. But does she want to sing "Waterloo"? Does she want to be a songwriter? I get the vibe that she wants to be a writer because the film ends with her sacrificing the contest to sing her new song. But does the movie really stress her begging to be a writer. Lars is dismissive of her writing abilities, but she never cries out that she would rather write her own music than perform Lars's. It's a very muddied theme and it is kind of lost in the shuffle of the film.
All this makes Sigrit's character less likable than she should be. Because her dreams are very loosey goosey (Will Lars love me? Am I meant for the big time? Do I like Lars's music? Am I attracted to someone else?) when she unloads on him, it almost comes across as ungratefulness and pettiness. Lars is very clear about his intentions: he wants to win the Eurovision Song Contest. He establishes throughout the film that they need to work really hard and take the Contest very seriously, or else they may not win. Lars is such a clearly defined character that it makes Sigrit an obstacle to that dream rather than a character who has a symbiotic relationship with the film's central conflict. For all of Alexander Lemtov's meddling, it's unclear whether he wants to actively sabotage the Icelandic team or if he has other motives. It is because Lemtov is an antagonist who also has very unclear goals that we have this muddled story that is really about Lars, who might be the least interesting character involved.
I'm not sure what good Eurovision is. I know that Lars and Sigrit are humiliated by constant technical problems. (This isn't surprising. The film keeps having them skip tech rehearsals. That's what they are for!) We're meant to feel sympathy for these two characters when things go wrong because things are out of their hands. But again, they keep skipping tech rehearsals. But these two become these sympathetic characters to the world of Eurovision. I mean, that's how they get to the finals. They get on stage and sing, despite the hamster wheel nearly killing both of them. It's an odd message because, in world, characters like to laugh at them for their lack of preparedness. But they actually are unprepared for this performance.
But back to my original idea. Everyone comments repeatedly that their song is terrible. One of the reasons that this film even exists is that I always understood the Eurovision Song Contest to be a bit of a circus sideshow. It's meant to be the most absurd performances by nobodies from Europe. I know that sounds really harsh, but I watched a lot of those clips with my wife. Also, look at all of the other performances. We're supposed to be blown away by these performers and how good they are, but they really are just showing the same level of talent as Fire Saga. It doesn't make a ton of sense when everyone scoffs at these two nobodies, considering that everyone in the competition seems to be a nobody, shy of the elite clique of previous winners.
But my biggest takeaway is that it doesn't feel like a classic at all. There are some moments that were genuinely very fun and very funny, but there were a lot of moments where I felt like I was being the gracious guest, who picked and chose which moments to laugh at. I wanted it to be great and it really wasn't even all that good. It's cute at times and some of the jokes slay. But as a whole work, it has a lot of undercooked parts.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.