Imagine for a moment if every time a new Bruce Lee movie debuted, the conversation became “wait, is this guy pretty good at martial arts?” Or if Jimi Hendrix straight-up came back from the dead right now and dropped an album and reviews were like, “finally, this man has proven he can more than adequately play guitar.” Such is the madness we as a society cycle through every time Rachel McAdams appears in a comedy, runs away with the movie like some sort of humor bandit, and leaves the rest of the cast behind in a crumpled heap of less-funny line delivery. Rachel McAdams is underrated the same way oxygen is underrated: If you’re not aware by now then maybe you’re just living in outer space, my friend. Her latest, Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga alongside Will Ferrell, doesn’t “prove” her chops, but I do think it’s a solid example of why she continues, against all human logic and reasoning, to fly under the comedy radar*.
The gist of Fire Saga is that McAdams and Ferrell play Sigrit Ericksdottir and Lars Erickssong, two talented but gawky Icelanders who luck their way into the massively-popular international song competition, Eurovision. (A real thing, I highly recommend falling down its Youtube rabbit hole.) Director David Dobkin churned out a genuinely delightful bundle of joy here, but the film has to sell you on a lot. The heaping doses of cheese provided by Eurovision itself. A legitimately sweet love story between Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell. A soundtrack of confirmed bangers. Dan Stevens as a Russian with a voice that sounds like Dracula’s sexy drag alter ego, Returna De Macula. None of it, none of it, would work without McAdams at its center, and the reason—as it has been since freaking The Hot Chick in 2002—is simple: She makes this shit look easy.
That sounds like such a basic no-brainer, but compare the idea to her Eurovision co-star, Will Ferrell. I love Will Ferrell, Will Ferrell deserves his status as #1 Man-Child, but Will Ferrell has made a career out of making comedy look like a whole lot. Old School basically kicked off a studio comedy era that still lingers today that established comedy = improv + maximum yelling + schlubby male nudity. Of course you’ll become a memorable comedian if The Brand™ is screaming that comedy into the audiences’ faces.
Alternatively, McAdams just delivers. The moment Reese Witherspoon says “what, like it’s hard?” in Legally Blonde—another criminally underrated comedy performance!—came to life, named itself Rachel McAdams and decided to get into acting. This doesn’t just mean saying the funny lines written in the script. It means casually, consistently elevating lines that shouldn’t be funny at all. Eurovision is chock-full of those moments—”The elves went too far” is absolutely 10x funnier thanks to McAdams’ aggressive earnestness—but the prime example, the moment that should vault any performer into the comedy pantheon by itself, came in 2018’s Game Night. It’s the best line delivery of that year, probably of the last decade, arguably of all time.
Oh no, he died. Why is that so funny? It’s a beautiful illustration of the whole “poking a dead frog” theory, that slicing too deep into a joke would explain the mechanisms but kill it in the process. It just is. That’s The Brand™ in the case of Rachel McAdams, going unnoticed because it’s soul-deep acting that doesn’t look hard at all. She embodied the definition of the title Mean Girls to an entire generation. She objectively delivered the best performance of Rob Schneider‘s career. She willed elves into existence. The question needs to stop being “is Rachel McAdams funny?” and become “who is going to let Rachel McAdams be funny alone at the top of a call sheet?” It’s more overdue than a time travel movie that actually lets Rachel McAdams time travel. Should this project also star Rose Byrne it would create some sort of Underrated Comedic Actress Paradox and likely end all of mankind. It’s what we deserve.
(*Besides, of course, the depressingly obvious fact that it’s because she is a woman, and women in the entertainment industry have to work 100% harder to gain 10% of the recognition of their male peers. There’s no disputing this, and everything written above has that specter hanging over it, a specter that needs to be exorcised from art and pop culture yesterday.)