This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
2020 is going to be a weird year in regards to movies; Mulan and Black Widow are going to be opening on Disney+ for an additional fee on top of the subscription; so far, the only movies actually going to theaters for the foreseeable future is Nolan’s Tenet and Peninsula (the sequel to Train to Busan). It is going to be a year that will be dominated by streaming services and their offerings, as well as people revisiting older movies that they may have missed or want to give another watch – or at least that’s what I’m going to be doing until movies in theaters are an actual option and frequent occurrence again.
For this article it is going to be one of Netflix’s recent offering the slapstick comedy/marketing promotion of Eurovision starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, and directed by David Dobkin. Fire Saga centers around musicians Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) who dream of representing their home country Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest with their only problem being that they are not really that good. Before we start, I want to acknowledge something: Reviewing or critiquing or talking about comedy movies is hard, because it all comes down to whether you found it funny or not and explaining why either of those outcomes happened, you’ll fall into two holes; you either explain the jokes and ruin them in advance or you vaguely mumble into a conclusion you do not explain or lead into and do your job poorly. Since I’m not that smart and don’t have the experience to deal with this issue, I’m just going to spent the least time on the most important aspect of the movie and acknowledge that fact in the hope you trust my taste in comedy and respect my conclusion without giving you the proper lead up to it. This is especially true for slapstick comedies, because in movies like Swiss Army Man where there is a perceived intellectual quality to it and a discussion can be had around the themes of the movie and how it deals with them in both dramatic and comedic terms, slapstick comedies are about doing dumb things and if you laugh then great, if not then you hate it; there’s no middle ground and there are no ways to explain why you are on either side, without falling into those previously mentioned holes.
All that is to say that I found this movie to be funny for the most part; this is the type of movie that adheres to the mentality of throwing jokes so fast at you, that if one hits and you don’t like it, the movie will move on to the next one before you know it, and I found most of the jokes to be funny. I was especially surprised by McAdams and her ability to carry the comedic moments of her character and inject some likeability in her character that is required for the latter half of the movie. Will Ferrell has lately been mildly hit or painful miss for me and in this movie he is the former for the most part; the scenes that require him to do most of the comedic leg work are the ones that did not work for me, but I still find enough comedy in his work and nostalgia hits for what used to be my favorite comedic actor back in mid-to-late-2000s. Dan Stevens and Pierce Brosnan are the other two notable names in the cast and both do a fine job, but also have some of the worst dialects in a movie I’ve heard in quite some time; Brosnan especially, had a horrible scene where I thought that it was a bit and he suddenly turned into an Italian, only to find out that it was not and that was his best take on the dialect.
There were also a couple of notable aspects the movie surprised me on, in both great and disappointing ways. Back in the opening paragraph I described this movie as marketing for Eurovision and I did not mean that in a negative context; I actually love to watch Eurovision because of the wacky acts and the goofiness, but I also like to watch people be able to express themselves and find an audience that is also being freed by their quirkiness and uniqueness. Maybe it was Will Ferrell’s filmography of parodies on establishments like journalism and the misogyny it had in the 70s and various sports, but I had expected the movie to zero in on all the negative and weird aspects of Eurovision and mock it relentlessly, but it simply doesn’t; it’s a warm, light-hearted vision of the contest and it celebrates everything that is unique and good about it, while also providing some genuine fan-service moments for fans.
On the other hand, while I respect Dobkin’s work as a director of Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights, I thought the directing of the movie was poor; most of the movie is directed adequately without any serious risks taken or standout uses of ingenuity, but Dobkin makes the weird decision to use Eurovision’s signature camera movements (namely wide shots to capture dance routines and pyrotechnic work, 360 rotating around the performer, and close up shots passing by the performers) that they use in 3 minute long acts to capture cool aesthetics and give each act a spotlight to convince the audience to vote, in a movie setting; so 360 shots that lasted a few seconds now last for entire minutes and at best this is fan-service that grows tiresome, but at worst it is dizzying and takes away from the actual experience.
All in all, while the majority of this article has been about dodging positive comments on what actually matters and focusing on some less likeable aspects of the movie, I still thought it was GOOD. In comedies, perceived intellectualism, strong thematic coherency, and great use of the medium’s inherent attributes, don’t really matter if it made you laugh in one way or another; these features certainly help, but Eurovision Song Contest: The story of Fire Saga made me laugh a lot, and in the end, that is how comedies are judged.