The Eurovision Song Contest is a largely bland, naff and occasionally cheesy affair that each year contains one or two ridiculously over the top entries, piece of music by a country that has decided to not take it seriously at all this time around, or even better has produced something they think is genuinely great but is of course absurdly daft. It’s this latter category that Will Ferrell and co are gently and very affectionately teasing in this Netflix film, though it’s a shame that it’s a relatively subdued work.
In a film which is two hours long but where a good thirty minutes could easily have been cut, it’s a surprisingly tame affair and lacks the manic energy that Ferrell is known for. It mostly plays it straight as an underdog movie as well, as possible brother and sister Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) bonded as children over Abba performing at the Eurovision Song Contest, and now are desperate to try and win it, and thanks to every other Icelandic entry being blown up in a boat accident they may actually have a chance.
Sigrit also has romantic designs on Lars and they almost get together a couple of times early on but then Lars decides that romance might destroy the duo’s chance of musical success, and so that leads to that ever annoying bit in rom-coms where they fall out, mainly because Sigrit believes that Lars has slept with another woman. Meanwhile Russian entry Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens) is doing his best to seduce Sigrit, but can they be reunited in time to win the competition? Or are they doomed to fail, as Lars’ father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) has always believed?
If you’re expecting this to be anything less than completely predictable than you’re going to walk away disappointed, which isn’t to say that it isn’t funny or an enjoyable flick, but plot wise it goes from A to B to C with only a couple of deviations, and it’s a shame that the script wasn’t more inventive. The deviations it does make are quite annoying too, after their performance goes wrong in the semi-finals and they almost die the audience who previously loved their efforts are weirdly silent, and it looks like they’re the joke of Europe, only for them to suddenly get votes from other countries and then a phone vote sees they make it in to the final but by that point Lars has already headed home and doesn’t discover their success for a stupidly long time.
Some nonsense with a financial head (played by Mikael Persbrandt, best known as Jakob in Sex Education) who worries that if Iceland win hosting the competition the following year will bankrupt the country is irritating too (a great final joke involving the character not making up for what came before), and along with the various arguments the duo have it drags out the storyline for way too long. And if you were to be picky (which alas I can’t help but be) you could complain that too many of the songs are really fun as well, sure there’s the odd weak moment but there’s too many extremely catchy and enjoyable efforts, and that’s not the Eurovision I know and tolerate. Still, it makes the film more enjoyable to watch and having to sit through the kind of piss poor nonsense you normally get would be bland, so perhaps it’s not such a bad thing.
I’ve a couple of even pettier issues too that I wish I could ignore but just can’t, including how at one point Graham Norton introduces Fire Saga with “And why they’re here is anyone’s guess” but given the death of every other Icelandic contestant would have been major news it’s a bit of an odd thing to say. Plus why the song we hear at the beginning, “Volcano Man”, isn’t used when they enter the competition when it’s a beautifully catchy number is frustrating, especially as the number that they insist on performing, “Double Trouble”, is heard numerous times and just isn’t as good.
Despite all these issues there are a fair few aspects which do work. As mentioned, many of the songs are enjoyable, those by Lars and Sigrit especially, the vicious death of the other Icelandic potential entrants and the overjoyed reaction from our duo is a very funny sequence, while Dan Stevens knocks it out of the park as the creepy Russian singer, with his song Lion Of Love being a real delight. There’s also the odd pleasingly surreal bit, as Sigrit believes in Elves and thinks they’re responsible for the boat explosion, Lars converses with his reflection in a fountain in a nicely daft moment, while Katiana’s burning ghost turns up a couple of times to warn Lars that he must leave the contest in a what turns out to be a pointless but quite amusing couple of scenes.
Elsewhere the script is often fairly sharp, there’s not too many amazing lines that are in any way quotable but both Ferrell and Adams get some decent dialogue, and there’s also some fun mockery of the United Kingdom and how everyone hates us which works well. Meanwhile Graham Norton’s wry commentary is a mix of the funny and the annoying (so quite like the real thing) and the likes of Jamie and Natasia Demetriou get a great couple of sequences, even if they’re so good that it’s a shame they’re not in it more.
Writers Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele have clearly done a lot of research in to the contest and are aware of its naff reputation among many, even if in many ways it’s a little too respectful of it. The mixed material is elevated by a strong cast as Rachel McAdams matches Ferrell in the silliness stakes and is an equally superb lead, while Dan Stevens is a hugely daft but appealing sort of villain, and everyone else is great too. It also sticks the landing, sure it’s cliched but it’s an emotional and affecting piece of closure which only made me wish that parts of the rest of the film hadn’t been quite so flabby and by the numbers.