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Film and drama

Screen Themes: Hamilton vs Eurovision Song Contest — The Story of Fire Saga

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You can’t stop the music, nobody can stop the music as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out a couple of recent streaming releases.

Hamilton (2020)

Directed by Thomas Kail

LAUDED BY MANY as the best musical of all time, Hamilton was a smash hit on Broadway following its debut in 2015, with shows selling out for months in advance and tickets attracting ludicrous prices on the secondary market. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and based on the book by Ron Chernow, Hamilton tells the story of America’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton. Filmed live on stage over three nights at the Richard Rogers Theatre in June 2019, Hamilton was planned to be released in cinemas… and then COVID-19 happened.

With a cast of non-white actors playing the U.S. founding fathers and a score that blends hip-hop, jazz and R&B with traditional show tunes, Hamilton is the sort of thing that you could see offending conservative types in the unlikely event that they watched it. Those with a slightly more open mind will be rewarded by an engaging story and some truly fantastic songs — I reviewed the soundtrack way back in 2016 and gave it 9/10, and I stand behind that rating.

At almost three hours, Hamilton does tend to drag in places, particularly the songs about cabinet meetings. Perhaps it is impossible to make cabinet meetings seem interesting, but any time they started discussing consolidating state debts I longed for the return of the feisty Angelica Schuyler (Renee Elise Goldsberry) or the pompous King George (Jonathan Groff) — both standout performers.

Other highlights include Daveed Diggs in the dual role of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson and Leslie Odom Jr as Aaron Burr (the one guy who really didn’t throw away his shot if you think about it).

So is Hamilton the best musical of all time? Unfortunately, I am ill-equipped to answer that question. Up until now, my favourite musicals have been The Blues Brothers, The Book of Mormon and Jesus Christ Superstar, none of which are really considered high art by musical classicists.  All I can say is that Hamilton is both highly entertaining and almost instantly rewatchable — give it 15 minutes and tell me I’m wrong.  

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) 

Directed by David Dobkin

Your enjoyment of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is likely to correlate strongly with your both appreciation for the celebration of weirdness that is Eurovision and with your tolerance for Will Ferrell.

A surprisingly restrained – in that he keeps his clothes on, mostly – Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong, an Icelandic singer who grew up dreaming of performing at Eurovision, despite the disapproval of his stoic father Erick (Pierce Brosnan). Accompanying Lars on his quest is Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), a talented performer who holds an inexplicable and unrequited love for Lars. While the setup seems like a cookie-cutter rom-com, the film shows surprising heart, spending time establishing why viewers should care about these ridiculous characters.

One of the most surprising aspects of ESC: TSoFS is that the music is actually good, particularly when considered within the context of Eurovision. From the bombastic swagger of 'Lion of Love' to the ludicrous fun of 'Jaja Ding Dong', director David Dobkin and musical consultant Atli Orvarsson have managed to capture the diverse magic that is Eurovision — there is even a moment of pure joy (a rarity in entertainment these days) as contestants break out into a "song-a-long" featuring some amazing vocal performances.

At the end of the day, ESC: TSoFS is unlikely to make any "best movies of 2020" lists, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth your time. If you’re looking for a couple of hours of light, feel-good entertainment that is family-friendly, you could do far worse.

The verdict

If you’re at all interested in musicals, it is worth watching Hamilton just to see what all the fuss is about. It is very entertaining, but perhaps slightly less resonant to a non-American audience, particularly when it strays into "greatest country in the world" territory. If you’re up for an easy laugh and miss Eurovision this year –cancelled due to COVID-19 – then give ESC: TSoFS a crack.

Hamilton and ESC: TSoFS appear to be opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of cultural impact, in that people will be talking about Hamilton for years but will look at you strangely if you suggest they watch a Will Ferrell movie about Eurovision. Despite that, it’s exactly what I’m doing.

Hamilton – 9/10

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – 7/10

Hamilton is now streaming on Disney+. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is now streaming on Netflix.

John Turnbull is Independent Australia's entertainment editor, a writer, balloon pilot and tattoo aficionado. 

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