Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)
Nobody Wins Solo
If you’re bummed that Eurovision got canceled this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, then don’t fret because Netflix has you covered. Yep, that’s right, the streaming service’s latest Will Ferrell vehicle sees the funnyman team up with Rachel McAdams to play a couple of Nordic singers who find themselves representing their country in the international song contest. The result is a decent film that’s probably a bit too long and somewhat tame for the likes of the out-there Eurovision Song Contest, which is known for its extravagant performances, over-the-top costumes, hilarious lyrics, and all-round silliness.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Eurovision, the competition is kinda like the Olympics of pop music and was developed in the late 1950s by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to bring Europeans together after the strain of World War II. Since it began, it’s launched the careers of ABBA — who broke out with their 1974 performance of ‘Waterloo’ — and, to an extent, even Canadian singer-songwriter Celine Dion, who represented Sweden in 1988 and won the comp by a single vote. Heck, some of my favorite Eurovision performances are the Slipknot-esque Finland group Lordi, who rocked the house in 2006 with the anthem ‘Hard Rock Halleluiah,’ Ukraine babe Mariya Yaremchuk’s sexy 2014 entry ‘Tick-Tock’ (which this movie clearly got some inspiration from), and Helena Paparizou’s catchy AF ‘Mambo!,’ which she performed at the ’06 show after taking the title in ’05 with ‘My Number One’ — I could go on, but I’ll stop there!
Back to the film, the story follows an Icelandic dreamer with long blonde hair named Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell doing his usual man-child shtick). Lars, you see, has zealously fantasized of performing at the Eurovision ever since he was a little boy, where he was saved by the sounds of ABBA’s ‘Waterloo,’ which helped him get through his mother’s passing. By his side is his childhood friend Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams), who’s been jamming with him since he was a kid — she also believes in the old Icelandic tradition of magical elves. Together they make up the group Fire Saga. The duo, however, has been struggling, their small icy town of Húsavík having very little faith that the band would amount to much outside of their pub gigs — all the locals want to do is listen to their novelty song ‘Jaja Ding Dong’ over and over and over again.
The pair has bigger dreams, though, hoping to make it to the European Song Contest with their Eurotrash bangger ‘Volcano Man’ (penned by Gustaf Holter and Christian Persson), which comes with a cheesy music video complete with all the kitschy goofiness one would expect from a Eurovision entry. To their surprise, they get into the Icelandic pre-selections in Söngvakeppnin, where they’ll get a chance to show everyone what they’ve got and maybe qualify to perform at the Eurovision. The committee, however, has a surefire winner on their hands with a rising diva known as Katiana Lindsdóttir (Demi Lovato, who sorta kicks butt here and performs an original track named ‘In the Mirror’) whom they believe can take the crown. The problem, though, is that the country that wins the competition must host the next Eurovision contest, which Iceland probably can’t afford. Hence, a cunning minister, Victor (Mikael Persbrandt), plans to sabotage the whole thing by finding the worst act in the nation and then sending them off to embarrass themselves on the world stage. Fire Saga bungle their performance, but a freak boat explosion that obliterates all of Iceland’s potential artists leaves Lars and Sigrit as the only remaining candidates that can represent their country. And so, the twosome heads to Edinburgh for the big musical spectacle and a chance at achieving their dream.
Written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is relatively fluffy entertainment, celebrating the sparkle and spirit of Eurovision as opposed to poking fun at it. While much of the story is predictable — think your classic underdog type narrative — there’s still a lot to enjoy, from the campy, colorful costumes by Anna B. Sheppard, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), to the amusing accents and peppy performances.
With that said, director David Dobkin, Wedding Crashers (2005), drags the film out a little (123 minutes is probably a smidge too long) with unnecessary odds and ends that make the length a bit hard to sustain — stuff about Lovato’s character appearing as a ghost to warn Lars that he’s in danger could’ve been cut. Given the vibrant energy of all things Eurovision, Dobkin also fails to inject the musical numbers with the type of oomph and pizzazz found in other similarly themed flicks such as Pitch Perfect (2012) or Mamma Mia! (2008), most coming off as somewhat flat. There’s a pretty amusing scene where Ferrell is performing on a giant hamster wheel, which malfunctions, catching onto Sigrit’s dress, then dragging her across the stage, but that’s probably the only moment that comes to mind in terms of musical highlights.
The real joy here, however, are the performances, with Ferrell and McAdams — and everyone else quite frankly — bringing their A-game. While Sigrit wants to synthesize with Lars and become a couple, he’s convinced that it’ll ‘ruin the band,’ and is more eager to focus on the music rather than anything else, their chemistry and camaraderie selling this plot point. And although Fire Saga are kinda meant to blow performance-wise, they’re actually quite talented, and their songs don’t really suck, which makes some of the disdain around them feel forced — fun fact, the main vocalist for McAdams’ character is actually Swedish popstar Molly Sandén (aka My Marianne) who hits a dazzling high note at the end of the show-stopping track ‘Husavik.’ Ex-Bond star Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye (1995), is also quite good and surprisingly funny as Lars’ gruff disapproving fisherman father Erick, who’s embarrassed by his son, convinced that he’ll never amount to anything.
Then there’s Dan Stevens, Beauty and the Beast (2017), who steals the movie as sexed-up Russian pop star Alexander Lemtov, who’s poised to win the competition and threatens to tear Fire Saga apart — but, hey, he’s not actually a bad guy. Hogging the limelight with his flamboyant wardrobe, erotic accent, and seductive charm, Stevens makes the role his own, really getting into it and coming out as the most memorable character of the summer. When Alexander performs his signature hit ‘Lion of Love’ (actually sung by Erik Mjönes), Stevens feels like a natural-born star who belongs on the stage. At one point, Alexander invites Fire Saga to a soirée at his extravagant Gothic mansion before the finals, and we get a stack of cameos from past Eurovision icons including Anna Odobescu, who represented Moldova in 2019 with her track ‘Stay,’ Jessy Matador, who represented France in 2010 with the song ‘Allez Ola Olé,’ Austrian star Conchita Wurst, who rose to fame in 2014 after winning with the song ‘Rise Like A Phoenix,’ and Israeli singer Netta Barzilai, who won the contest in 2018 with her superbly strange track ‘Toy’ — seeing these guys perform together is a real treat for Eurovision fanatics. Also worthy of note is Melissanthi Mahut, In Transit (2014), who spices things up as Mita Xenaxis, a Greek contestant that maybe has a thing for Lars.
Optimistic, light-hearted, and non-judgmental, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga won’t change your life, but it strikes the right amount of cords to maybe brighten your night — and that’s pretty important in these troubling times. Granted, it could’ve done with some fine-tuning, but Ferrell, McAdams and co. deliver the goods, albeit a tad more lowkey than you’d expect from something with the Eurovision tag slapped onto it. Still, ‘Douze Points!’ for effort. Who knows, maybe this might encourage the Yanks to tune into the show next year (if it goes ahead) and discover what they’ve been missing.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie