Saturday, August 29, 2020

Movie Review: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Over the years I've come to think everyone has a movie where their opinion of Will Ferrell softens, where they go from disliking him to appreciating him. It's not necessarily a case of liking him in the role or even liking every role he's been in; more a boundary is crossed between being unable to comprehend how anyone could stand watching him in anything to appreciating him.

For me - for a lot of people, in fact - that movie was Elf. I absolutely love Elf - it's one of my all-time favorite Christmas comedies (and, uh... remember who's saying that). Before Elf, I disliked Will Ferrell: I didn't find him funny, I didn't think he worked as a lead, I hated his approach... But after Elf, something changed. Something clicked, and suddenly I just kind of liked him.

But you know who didn't like Elf? My wife. For reasons I'm not going to go into here, the movie didn't click with her, nor did any subsequent Ferrell roles she saw. She went on disliking him for years, and I began to doubt the theory.

Then we sat down to watch The Story of Fire Saga together. This is, of course, a Netflix-released musical comedy that's received lukewarm critical reviews at best. It's rated fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but just barely. It was getting mixed reactions, so I wasn't expecting much. Honestly, I mostly put it on to kill some time.

I loved it, by the way. I feel like I should mention that, at least as an aside. For a number of reasons, I loved almost every minute of this movie. I loved its humor, its use of music, its tone, and shockingly, its heart. I'll get into the details in a moment, but all that's somewhat incidental.

Because as much as I loved it, my wife loved it more. It was mostly the music that got her - she has a background in singing, and she felt The Story of Fire Saga captured the sheer joy of people singing together. But she also liked the characters, the jokes, and the movie as a whole. And for the first time ever, she saw a Will Ferrell movie without minding Ferrell. This was her Elf.

I'm relaying this story in the hopes of encouraging others who haven't come around on Will Ferrell to give Fire Saga a chance. Unless, of course, you consider your dislike of Ferrell an integral part of your identity, in which case you should probably skip it entirely (2020 has been hectic enough without having to undergo an existential crisis). But I'd encourage everyone else to check it out. Despite the absurdity of the premise, the movie is a loving homage to its source material, not a mockery. There's a massive musical number halfway through that does an amazingly effective job conveying the campy fun of the Eurovision competition. It's a moment that could have been played wholly for laughs, but instead feels joyous and celebratory.

That also describes the movie as a whole. This is funny, intentionally stupid, but ultimately sweet. The characters (particularly Ferrell's Lars) occasionally approach the edge of losing sympathy, but they always manage to win it back.

Let's take a moment to discuss the cast. I'm hardly the first to say Rachel McAdams is phenomenal in this. While Ferrell seems to be dominating the marketing, they're co-leads, each receiving equal points of view in the narrative.

Dan Stevens and Pierce Brosnan are also hilarious. As for Ferrell, I was more mixed. He's a little out of place tonally in this movie - everyone is having fun with the material, but he's the only one who's not reining it in a bit. I'm not sure I'd call this a flaw: it's more like you're watching a great comedy overlaid with a Will Ferrell vehicle. I feel like this should have been distracting, but it honestly didn't bother me. Maybe it's a technical flaw that still worked for me?

Regardless, that's about as close to a complaint as I can find. Overall, this is a fun, well-constructed comedy with a medium budget and an impressive cast. They used to make things like this all the time in the '80s and '90s, but the genre was mostly killed off after a string of mean-spirited spoofs. It's genuinely refreshing to see it done well again.