Illustration of heart outlines over a green and gold background, representing the Eurovision Song Contest
An array of complex and lovable characters makes the film a must-watch. (Illustration by Elizabeth Wong, University of Rhode Island)

Will Ferrell Offers More Than a Good Laugh in ‘Eurovision Song Contest’

Even with mixed reviews, the new Netflix film stands out as a tribute to the real Eurovision contest and its message of self-acceptance.

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Illustration of heart outlines over a green and gold background, representing the Eurovision Song Contest

Even with mixed reviews, the new Netflix film stands out as a tribute to the real Eurovision contest and its message of self-acceptance.

I’m not normally a fan of cheesy movies. When my family first clicked over to watch the trailer for “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” I buckled up for slow groans, cringes and peeking out from between my fingers. And yes, there were definitely those moments — I mean, Will Ferrell did co-write the movie. But to my surprise, the characters somehow managed to grow on me. I’m here to tell you that the hype is real: You’re going to enjoy all 123 minutes of the humorous flick.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” has received mixed reviews since its debut on Netflix last week, but it has captured viewers’ hearts and gotten comfy on the Top 10 list of the platform’s most popular movies.

From Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams’ goofy relationship to the flashy depiction of the musical magic of Eurovision, there’s a lot to love about the movie.

For one, “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” sparkles with humor. The scandalous lyrics of songs like “Ja Ja Ding Dong” are sung so innocently that it’s hard to hold back the giggles.

Ferrell’s and McAdams’ outfits include gaudy rainbow fish scales and unflattering white leotards. And of course, there’s a plethora of terrible dance moves and obligatory comparisons of manliness.

Ferrell also had a more down-to-earth motive for the film. He designed it to honor the real Eurovision contest, which is now 64 years old and boasts participants from all over Europe. What’s more, the film highlights an Icelandic city called Húsavík, and besides the inaccurate Icelandic accents, it has received mostly high marks for cultural accuracy.

Although some Eurovision fans have claimed the film didn’t capture the campiness that the contest is known for, the film succeeds at celebrating the Eurovision spirit, and it gives non-European viewers a glimpse of its glory.

Cultural commentary aside, “Eurovision Song Contest” truly shines because it’s jam-packed not only with Will Ferrell’s signature personality but with a spirit of self-love — from the quirky romance between the two protagonists to the well-developed character relationships to the silly songs that invigorate the movie.

Ferrell plays one of the two protagonists, but his role doesn’t simply start and end with him playing himself, as in other movies. Instead, his character is both hilarious and heartwarming in fresh ways, while also paying homage to Ferrell’s most endearing past roles.

Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong, an eccentric, dopey musician from Húsavík whose lifelong dream is to win the Eurovision Song Contest. His stoic father dismisses his passion as frivolous nonsense, and his band that produces wacky music, Fire Saga, is prone to on-stage catastrophes, but he soldiers on toward his goal with his musical partner and best friend, Sigrit (Rachel McAdams).

A 2017 article in The Atlantic about Ferrell wrote, “His best work always involves building a character from the ground up, and then constructing the film around it.”

Lars is one such character; even though he’s a bit of an oaf, he’s relatable enough to feel human. Ferrell perfectly embodies Lars’ mix of idiocy and sensitivity, making the movie feel all the more alive and memorable.

In fact, it’s obvious that all of the main characters are the products of time and care. Idiosyncratic details, like Lars and Sigrit’s habitual greeting  — “I see you!” “There you are.” “Here I am.” “I’m checking you out.” “I’m checking you out!” — enrich their relationship because they’re just so refreshingly childish and carefree. It’s just as silly on screen as in writing, and there’s at least a sprinkle of adorable mixed in with the weird. Honestly, they’re my favorite lines of the movie.

Moreover, Sigrit is much more than Lars’ pretty sidekick; she bubbles over with quirks, secret dreams, emotional maturity and a grounding backstory.

Sigrit sings beautifully (she’s obviously the more skilled half of Fire Saga — sorry Lars), but her quest is to find her voice beyond the stage. Ever since Lars inspired her to say her first words as a child, the two have been close friends, but she loves him as more than that.

Every time she tries to make a move though, something interrupts her — whether it’s a random explosion or Lars’ claim that they need to “focus on the music.” As rival suitors, the pressure of the competition and creative differences strain their relationship, Sigrit must figure out what she stands for and stay true to herself.

Russian singer Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens) is another wonderfully complex character in the movie. Though contrasting hints are dropped about his sexuality, he immediately takes an interest in Sigrit when they meet at Eurovision and persistently tries to win her affections.

He seems to have shallow intentions at first, but it soon becomes clear that he really is a kind person. He understands Sigrit’s wallflower role in her relationship with Lars and encourages her to sing her own song.

While Ferrell’s role in the movie is inestimable, and the jokes are fun, what makes the film stand out is that he’s just one focal point in the composition. The other characters also have their unique desires and journeys. Like the various moving parts and melodies in a Eurovision performance, the plot’s web of relationships and individual story arcs combines to form a whole that’s far greater than the sum of its parts.

The movie’s message is one of self-worth and loyalty. Each of the main characters finds resolution when they figuratively come home and learn to appreciate themselves, their loved ones and their hometowns. Lars finds confidence apart from victory and his father’s approval, and he learns to appreciate Sigrit for who she is.

Sigrit learns to speak up for herself and value her own dreams. Lars’ father learns to see the courage and Viking spirit in Lars’ persistence. Side characters like Alexander and Mita learn to find happiness outside of love and be honest about who they really are.

One critic from The Guardian said that the film falls short because it can commit to neither satire nor seriousness, and its characters are too relatable to laugh at. It’s true; unlike Ferrell’s beloved “Elf,” the protagonists, and even the movie’s side characters, are too lovable and not quite extreme enough for us to laugh at. But others would say that the combination of satire and sincerity is actually the movie’s strength.

At the end of the day, “Eurovision Song Contest” has much more going for it than ordinary kicks and giggles. It really feels like a tribute to the weirdos and outcasts, the dreamers and artists. The theme is strikingly similar to the silly and self-accepting spirit of Eurovision, a contest that’s unashamed to make fun of itself.

The movie has won so many hearts because it’s the whole package. It’s a peek into European culture, hysterical musical performances and heart-warming characters. The movie simultaneously spans many genres while fitting neatly into none of them. Kind of like Eurovision, the film creates its own category — and it’s proud of it.

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