Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

(1.5 *) Some good music, but Will Farrell spoils the movie
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Oscar Nominations:

Original Song (“Husavik”: Kotecha/Grahn/Goransson)

If you took Will Farrell out of this movie, it might have been somewhat watchable.  As Jeannette Catsoulis (New York Times) wrote: “Ferrell makes Lars an irritating, egomaniacal distraction from more enjoyable performances and, especially from the film’s original songs.”

Farrell’s character, Lars, is a man-child, well past his twenties, living with his father in Husavik, Iceland.  Lars has had an obsession, for decades, of winning the Eurovision Song Contest which, if you don’t know, is a pan-Europe singing contest similar to American Idol.  Although not particularly good himself, he and his partner, Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) have been a singing duo named Fire Saga and playing in local pubs for years.  After a series of accidents which may, or may not, have been pushed along by Icelandic elves (a nod to an earlier Farrell character), the duo finds themselves representing Iceland with no-one, except Lars, believing they have any kind of chance at winning.

Because this is a Will Farrell movie, there are plenty of attempts at comic humor, most of which end up falling on the embarrassingly lame side.  This may have been an attempt at a comeback film for him – he hasn’t hardly appeared in anything for more than a decade.  But as James Berardinelli (ReelViews) put it “Ferrell’s shtick got old a long time ago and he’s the proverbial dog who hasn’t learned any new tricks.”  I suspect that even if you are a long time fan of Farrell’s brand of humor, you won’t find much to chew on in this film.

Except maybe from his co-stars.  Rachel McAdams (a favorite of mine since her supporting actress Oscar nomination for Spotlight (15)) shows a mastery of comic timing that no-one really knew she had.  She can deliver absurd behavior and keep a straight face at the same time – she upstages Farrell in virtually every scene.  She also has a difficult role of actually thinking she is in love with this man-child, which makes no sense to anyone. Pierce Brosnan plays Lars disappointed Father with a half-baked seriousness that belies his James Bond background.  Dan Stevens is a Russian singer who may or not be gay – but ‘there are no gays in Russia’ so…. And there are a slew of other delightful characters playing the other contestants in this show.  All of these people outperform Will Farrell.

If he delivers any surprise at all it is his singing which is almost good.  In fact, if there is a reason to see this film it is the music.  There are probably a half-dozen original songs that we get to hear all or parts of and many of them are actually very good.  It is one of my pet peeves about the Original Song Oscar category that, usually, the song doesn’t appear until the credits roll and, therefore, it isn’t really a part of the movie.  That is certainly not the case here as the nominated song “Husavik”, is a key part of the plot, and plays a pivotal role in the movie’s climactic moments.  So, in my book, this might be one of only a couple of songs that rightly should have been nominated, and maybe should have won the Oscar because of that.  Even though most of the singing is dubbed in by better quality singers (Farrell is the only exception), the lip synching is barely noticeable.  (Have to admit, I’m disappointed McAdams can’t sing, though.)

The music isn’t the only reason to see this movie.  The cinematography, from Oscar-nominated Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech), includes stunning images of the Icelandic, Scottish, and English countryside and city scenes.  And Anna B. Sheppard (Oscar nominated for Maleficent among others) developed some outrageous outfits for the singers that helped give their musical performances a visual edge.

Director David Dobkin brings these talented members together, but with a history largely doing music videos (mostly for Maroon 5), Dobkin’s expertise is in staging a musical performance, not in developing a motion picture.  So what we are left with here are some terrific fragments of a musical show, tangled together in a morass of nonsensical comedic gestures.  That it takes more than two hours to get through this mess is just even more of an insult.

If you really have nothing else to watch, turn to this for the music.  But you’ve been warned…. (1.5 stars)

Available only on Netflix

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