Living inside the Friedrich Nietzsche wet dream that is 2020, humor seems as unreasonable as physical contact with a stranger. The bar for comedy has officially been lowered to “something that doesn’t make us weep while pondering systemic injustice or our own mortality.”
This is great news for Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (ESCTSOFS)! Sure, its title may be as overlong and unnecessary as its running time, but it also features Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams singing a polka-esque banger called “Jaja Ding Dong.” Nothing in us as human beings is so broken that a juvenile sex joke presented as an Icelandic folk song cannot heal us.
If you don’t know, the real Eurovision is a gloriously gaudy and deliciously decadent music competition that was arguably totally harmless before it looked the other way when it comes to Palestinian concerns about Israel. ESCTSOFS follows Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (McAdams), an Icelandic pop duo named Fire Saga, as they bumble and Bjork their way through said competition. A combination of luck, murder, and possible elven magic propels them through a sequence of moments ripped off from Pitch Perfect or kindly ribbing the actual Eurovision.
ESCTSOFS is confusingly hilarious, in that the biggest gags mostly fall flat while the little things are just stupidly funny. Virtually every line of ludicrously-accented dialogue that Dan Stevens oozes out of his snarling lips as Alexander Lemtov, a pile of Russian sexual innuendo, is almost upsettingly amusing. Ferrell’s repetitive schtick predictably wears thin, but McAdams understands the degree to which effective comedy requires a degree of legitimate sincerity. Also, an angry bearded Icelandic man screams “I only want to listen to Jaja Ding Dong,” which is a perfectly acceptable life motto.
Sigrit’s doting obsession with Lars would be upsetting were it not clearly intended to be a joke aimed at Ferrell’s expense. A more audacious film would have actually pulled the ripcord on the running joke that they could be half-siblings, but Ferrell and cowriter Andrew Steele were clearly more concerned with the lowest of low-hanging fruits. Yes, that was another Jaja Ding Dong reference.
Would ESCTSOFS have played better with an audience? Or would it have been more laborious, given a run time that exceeds two hours? Since movie theaters are now basically petri dishes with stickier surfaces, every film feels like it is graded on some kind of COVID-era curve. It would be a lie to suggest that watching this brazen stupidity filled with a complete lack of significance at home isn’t a much-needed respite right now.
The biggest real-world implication is considering whether any of the accents deployed as gracefully as whoopee cushions rise to the level of culturally insensitive. Considering that Iceland seems to handle literally everything better than America does, chances are they are wholly unoffended and maybe even a teeny bit delighted. And if ESCTSOFS makes any kind of point, it’s that we could all stand to be a teeny bit delighted right now.
Grade = B
Other Critical Voices to Consider