Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele and directed by David Dobrik, is the story of Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), two small-town Icelandic singers who pursue their dream of winning the Eurovision Song Contest. However, a series of rivals, pitfalls and calamities test their abilities and relationship.
Eurovision tries to present themes of individuality, selfishness and caring for those who care for you. It tries to tell a story about letting go of petty self-centred interests and instead supporting the goals of those around you, in order to be truly fulfilled in life. These ideas very slowly build throughout the film, reaching a point of decent catharsis where the story eventually comes together in a somewhat satisfying manner.
I say eventually as the first half of the film drags on quite a bit. While the set-up is pretty concise and to-the-point, it takes a while for real conflict between characters to show up. I guess, they were going for a slow, fleshed-out set-up, but they fail to develop much. Scenes are stretched out to include rambling, unfunny gags; each one given a beat to sink in, tanking the pace of the film. This is worsened by the fact that this type of humour that would genuinely work in a fast-paced context. The misguided choices made about key decisions, unfortunately, are evident in the film and get more apparent as it goes on. It comes off as a series of watered-down slapstick situations, which could have worked had the makers fully committed to the concept.
Which brings me to the second issue, one that persists throughout Eurovision; a lack of commitment. The writers have managed to successfully come up with a story, situation and world which has great comedic potential; a bizarre comedy with tons of smart humour running through it. However, the actual punchlines come off as basic, diluted first-ideas they could think of, squandering any promise the film appeared to have. They seriously needed to embrace their idea fully in order to infuse the humour into it. There is a sense that the writers were holding back from what they had created, with each joke feeling like there was space for more to be done with it. The script even relies a little too much on the performances, not realizing that the joke needs to be solid in the first place before being delivered right. This, combined with the issue of pacing weaken the film considerably, especially the first half, which was further hindered by an inadequate script.
I don’t quite know where to start with the writing. There is a multitude of problems with the film, all stemming from the fact that the writers needed more focus. The film is riddled with contrivances, which are set up in a meagre fashion, resulting in a feeble payoff almost every time. Subplots are another weak element, with one of them being just three scenes long. It felt like it was inserted just to explain some of the contrivances set up in the first place. There are some attempts at metaphor, but they are few and far in between, and, again, not very effective to begin with. The story is quite predictable, which isn’t necessarily the worst thing, but the characters lack any charm to carry you through it. I will get to the main characters later, but the supporting characters are very one-note and ultimately inept as well. Their stories don’t support the motivations, goals and journies of the protagonists, inhibiting them from being solid.
While the goals of Lars and Sigrit are quite clear, they suffer from the motivation for said goal not being compelling enough, particularly Lars. He wants to win the competition so that he isn’t the laughing stock of the town anymore and can win his father’s approval. This is not new, which isn’t inherently bad, but it lacks anything unique to set it apart from what we’ve seen before. I guess they thought this particular setting was the ‘unique’ aspect of Eurovision, but it doesn’t apply to character building. I found myself struggling to care about him as he made for an uninteresting character. The only latch-worthy aspect was the fact that it was Will Ferrell, and while he is a master at comedic timing he needs to realize that great delivery means nothing in the face of a mediocre joke.
Sigrit’s motivation was precise and quite true to the human condition, making her a great character. She wants to be with Lars, thus will tirelessly help him achieve his dreams, stopping her from realizing her own potential. While Rachel McAdams didn’t exactly have the best chemistry with Ferrell, she is definitely a bright spot in the film. Her arc felt effectively written, unlike the rest of the film, and progressed with excellent pacing. It was this sole thread that kept me hooked to the film as it provided a lot of strength and structure. It supported almost everything in the second half of the film.
Speaking of, the second half of Eurovision picks up substantially. Once the conflict is finally injected into the story, it becomes far more engaging. The stakes are raised right, the pacing is great and even the humour somewhat begins to work. It just goes to show the strength of the story is nearly everything in filmmaking. It builds the conflict, resolves it simply but effectively and culminates in a fantastic final music sequence which, in my opinion, is award-worthy.
That being said, the music sequences are a point of discussion. Their place in the film is strange, as they aren’t used as a storytelling device, save for the last song (which would’ve been even more effective if placed in the first act), or used for any metaphor. Yet, they are given too much runtime. While, admittedly, catchy as hell, they could have been shortened by a huge margin to improve the film’s pacing. There is even a random musical number toward the middle of the movie, which serves no purpose other than padding the runtime even further. It just ends up confusing viewers as to the point of the songs in the film; are they an element of satire, or a love-letter to musicals?
The direction is also, unfortunately, a weak aspect in the film. The writers set up a world with tons of creativity to be exploited, yet the technical elements never take advantage of this. They are bland, similar to the director’s previous efforts like Wedding Crashers, but Eurovision was one film where they needed to be anything but. The camera is almost always static, with basic framing and blocking and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to switch to handheld when it does. Most of the film feels like it was made on the edit-table too. Again, this isn’t inherently bad, but it further showcases the failure of the makers to plan the technical aspects of this movie, which I’m sure if they had, they could have come up with something more visually interesting. The only aspect that embraces the ridiculous world of the story is the production design, which makes it an underrated but solid element in the film.
Eurovision Song Contest was filled with potential. The idea, tone and mindset with which the writers approached this film was great. They just needed to follow through with that same mindset. It felt like it was made to be finished, not with love. The film is a possibly great experience, marred by a combination of a weak first half and lack of commitment to the idea. It had its head in the right place, just lacked the heart to execute it.
Further Reading – School of Rock Retrospective – Still Music To My Ears
I’m a film student who wants to talk about movies. Currently specializing in film editing. Huge fan of Edgar Wright, Ricky Gervais, and comedy in general.