The Eurovision Song Contest may not appear to be the obvious vehicle for a Will Ferrell movie, given its clear Eurocentrism, however, alongside compatriot Andrew Steele, the pair have penned a celebratory movie around the event. In fact, Ferrell has explained that the film was written as a ‘love letter’ to the contest after he was introduced to it by his Swedish wife over 20 years ago. Thankfully, for fans of the event, the Anchorman star does an admirable job of staying faithful to the spirit of the contest, gently teasing its idiosyncrasies without ever slipping into outright mockery.
The film begins in Iceland, ‘the land of fire and ice’ from which the film’s title borrows, with Lars Ericksong (Ferrell) and his friend Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) dreaming of representing their country in the Eurovision Song Contest. Pierce Brosnan appears as Lars’ grizzled father Erick, in what appears to be a knowing send-up of his Mamma Mia role, and sees his son’s dreams as mere folly. Let’s avoid too many spoilers but, suffice to say, many japes ensue along the way with a predictable love story thrown in for good measure.
As with so many Ferrell movies, it is thin on plot and relies heavily on slapstick humor and pratfalls. However, the film is elevated by its original songs which lovingly recreate the campy feel of the show’s best songs. Stand-out tracks include ‘Double Trouble’ and ‘Volcano Man’ which would fit seamlessly into a real Eurovision event. Savan Kotecha, who has previously written pop hits for Britney Spears and Ariana Grande, was enlisted to produce the soundtrack and this was evidently an astute decision.
The director David Dobkin’s past shooting music videos also comes to the fore in this film, as he expertly intertwines the soundtrack with the visual chicanery on stage. Dobkin described the fine balance he struck, mostly with success, between satire and homage: ‘It’s okay if it’s funny but it has to be really good music. It has to still be great and just kitschy enough to be Eurovision, because that’s part of what’s fun about Eurovision.’
Dobkin seriously flexes his music video muscles early in the film with an elaborate number which mixes iconic pop culture songs like Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’ and Cher’s ‘Believe,’ alongside a parade of the show’s past stars like Conchita Wurst. The film’s affection for the show is obvious and is done with an exuberance and heart which matches the spirit of Eurovision. Despite the obvious use of auto-tuning, it is used sparingly enough for the audience to hear the inflections in Ferrell and McAdams’ singing voices. The fact they can often be heard as singing imperfectly for ‘real’ in the film matches the goofy, amateur tone of the contest itself.
Will Ferrell films often focus on sporting and cultural touchstones: soccer in Kicking & Screaming, ice skating in Blades of Glory, and casinos in The House. Despite the surface silliness of many such Ferrell projects, his clear passion for the stories he tells imbues them with a wider appeal which extends to other media. The success of the Anchorman franchise, for example, has led to its adaptation into a Kickstarter-funded board game (Anchorman: The Board Game, funnily enough), and even the branded Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy slot available from online gambling sites. The latter includes icons, motifs, and sound bites from the beloved franchise, and has successfully encapsulated Burgundy and his crew into the popular slot title.
His everyman appeal allows him to take on subjects with broad popularity and appear believable to audiences despite the absurdity of his characters. The cheesy color and enthusiasm of Eurovision, therefore, provides Ferrell with fertile ground upon which to build yet another weird and wonderful story.
Ferrell’s performance is typically exaggerated to good effect but Rachael McAdams, especially coming from a background of mainly dramatic roles, deserves particular praise for her dead-pan stylings which complement her co-star’s character perfectly. Dan Stevens also turns in a commendable performance as the Russian representative with well-judged camp villainy which doesn’t slip into complete parody.
This film certainly won’t convert anyone with a pre-existing aversion to the Eurovision Song Contest and equally it won’t be a frontrunner at Awards season (although Ja Ja Ding Dong must be in contention for Best Original Song). Overall, however, the film doesn’t set out to achieve anything other than a fun and corny celebration of Eurovision and in this regard it definitely succeeds. The cast all appear to be having a great time and allow the audience to share in this sense of joy. It captures the Eurovision spirit and makes for a fantastic, family popcorn movie.