Eurovision has come too far to be made a mockery of by Will Ferrell | Heidi Stephens

News that the star is making a film about the song contest fills me with trepidation – and a little hope

Will Ferrell to star in Eurovision song contest comedy for Netflix

The signs were there in Lisbon in May – Hollywood comedy legend Will Ferrell hanging out backstage with the Eurovision contestants, then clapping along in the audience at the first semi-final. Was he just a fan, or maybe researching a new project?

Yes, as it happens – earlier this week it was announced that Ferrell is co-writing, producing and starring in a film called Eurovision for Netflix – possibly a musical, although details are sketchier than the Montenegrin dubstep number that failed to qualify in 2013.

On paper, it’s a movie match made in Euro-heaven. In one corner (representing millions of Americans who think Elf is the best Christmas film ever – sure, fine, whatever) is Will Ferrell, veteran comedian with a penchant for slapstick, parody and larger-than-life characters. In the other corner (representing Europe, plus random bonus countries, don’t ask) is the Eurovision song contest – a madcap comedy smörgåsbord of musical nonsense, bonkers staging, shameless political voting and wind machines. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything, actually. Because that isn’t what Eurovision is, and it hasn’t been for years. And if Ferrell misses the mark with his Eurovision movie, a big chunk of the contest’s 186 million viewers, and fans worldwide, are going to be very cheesed off indeed.

Will Ferrell in the 2007 ice skating spoof, Blades Of Glory.
Will Ferrell in the 2007 ice skating spoof, Blades Of Glory. Photograph: Allstar/PARAMOUNT/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

Eurovision has been a highlight of my cultural calendar since Bucks Fizz won for the UK in 1981, and I’ve watched the show in the host city for the past three years. The pride and dedication of fans is no different from the World Cup, just with a much bigger LGBT following, less drunken fighting and better crowd singalongs. The modern era of Eurovision is a hugely slick and professional operation that feels a million miles from the wonky sets, live feed delays and novelty acts of yesteryear (Dustin the Turkey, I’m looking at you). It’s a celebration of diversity, culture and inclusivity, delivering highly polished performances and supported by a passionate fandom that follows not just the grand final in May each year, but the months of national heats and selections that precede it. The contestants, the production team and the fan community all absolutely get it; the question is, does Ferrell?

The initial signs are good – he’s been watching the contest since 1999, apparently, having been introduced to Eurovision by his Swedish wife Viveca Paulin. The use of the contest’s name in the title is also a good sign, indicating that it has a nod of approval from the European Broadcasting Union, which produces the show every year and owns the trademark. The EBU has worked tremendously hard to build the credibility of the contest in recent years; for them to give their blessing to a joint production by Netflix and Ferrell they must be confident that it will give a positive boost to the contest in the US, without showcasing it as an absurd cultural circus or a Blades Of Glory-style spoof.

So I remain nervous, but hopeful. Ferrell’s Eurovision movie needs to tread a fine line – capturing enough of the quirky charm of Eurovision to make it a joy for US audiences who’ve never heard of it, without descending into mocking parody. Much like the hilarious interval song Love Love Peace Peace from Sweden’s Eurovision in 2016, it needs to come from a place of true affection, rather than ridicule. It needs to be funny because Ferrell is a brilliant observer of character, not because everyone’s chuckling at the daft foreigners and their silly singing contest.

Most of all, I want the Ferrell/Netflix take on Eurovision to capture the national pride, the commitment and passion of fans, and the unique and uplifting spirit of the Eurovision song contest – if it does, it will be a smash hit from Iceland to Australia. So on behalf of Eurovision fans everywhere, I’ll leave Will Ferrell with these immortal words from RuPaul’s Drag Race: “Good luck, and don’t fuck it up.”


Heidi Stephens

The GuardianTramp

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