(dir. David Dobkin) (2020) (Netflix)
If you love the Eurovision Song Contest, read on. If you hate, or are merely indifferent to it, stop reading now. No-one likes that kind of negative weirdness.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga was scheduled for release in May 2020, in order to coincide with the final of the real Eurovision contest in Rotterdam this year, but the final was cancelled, tragically, due to some little pandemic or other. Who wouldn’t risk a bit of respiratory failure for the chance to see acts like this –
Thank goodness that at least we have this gentle homage, which partly fills the Eurovision-shaped hole in our Covid-19 lockdown days.
Will Ferrell wrote the script with Andrew Steele. Ferrell plays Icelandic singer Lars Erickssong who, as a small boy, was immediately cheered-up by ABBA banging out Waterloo at the Eurovision final in 1974. His previously silent young friend Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) is similarly inspired to sing and the two spend the next indeterminate number of years as the duet ‘Fire Saga‘ working on unsuccessful Eurovision entries. They may be in a basement, but in their minds they are performing on dramatic fjords and lava fields in true Eurovision garb. (Whom do we have to blame for winged pseudo-Viking helmets? Surely that’s not Richard Wagner’s fault along with everything else?)
One of the members of the team who organize the 2020 Icelandic competition for entry to the Eurovision Song Contest (an evil banker) does not want a good Icelandic act to enter the contest, because they might win, and then Iceland would host the final in 2021. Nor is this idea original. The idea that hosting Eurovision would bankrupt a country (in this case Ireland) was used to great effect in the A Song for Europe episode of the TV show Father Ted. (Fire Saga‘s various attempts at crafting a Eurovision-winning song are good, but sadly, lack the vital force and sheer loveliness of Ted and Dougal’s “My Lovely Horse”.)
Due largely to the machinations of the evil banker (again, owing something to Father Ted), in 2020 Fire Saga make it to the final in Edinburgh, Scotland (an unlikely location given the unpopularity of the UK in the Eurovision world).
Will Ferrell is obviously too old, hirsute and rounded to make it as a Eurovision type of guy. His earnest closeups, wild hamster-wheel riding and wire-flying are very funny indeed. His deluded and vain Lars could be the cousin of Ferrell’s deluded and vain ice-skating champion Chazz Michael-Michaels in Blades of Glory. Lars could also be a cousin of Ferrell’s much sweeter North Pole elf character Buddy in Elf. (Fittingly, Sigrit appeals to the Icelandic elves for help.) And Lars’ grumpy Dad recalls Reese Bobby from Talladega Nights. Just like Blades of Glory and Elf, there are no surprises in The Story of Fire Saga. And yes, the ending (involving a very placid baby, Lars’ visceral loathing of American tourists, and a song called “Jaja Ding Dong”) is schmaltzy but fun.
The two leads are fine and do some of the singing themselves. Dan Stevens (below) is especially likeable as the not-so-evil Russian, Alexander Lemtov. Melissanthi Mahut plays the Greek contestant, whose only reason for existence in this film appears to be so that she can pull off some clothing in time-honoured Eurovision style. This film could be criticized for that, and for casting a young and attractive actress with Ferrell, but that’s Eurovision, and in any event, the film includes plenty of the usual bare-chested, excessively groomed Eurovision-style men, if you like that type of thing. Demi Lovato does a rather odd turn as Iceland’s favourite for the contest. Pierce Brosnan amuses as a dry Icelandic fisherman who is ashamed of his son Lars for the most part and is generally known in their small town for being ‘handsome’ and a womanizer (Lars is fairly certain that Sigrit is not his sister).
There is an excellent musical number set in a castle, clearly intended to be used for promotion. It’s a ‘spontaneous” “song-along” where the camera veers through a house full of movie and real Eurovision contestants singing and sparkling. They make Cher’s Believe listenable and Waterloo not as tired. The hirsute Conchita Wurst is in excellent voice in this scene. Netta is as inexplicable as ever.
The costumes are fine, for the most part, if unimaginative by Eurovision standards (although we did wonder why it looked as if Rachel McAdams had had to do her own hair). Lars flies from Edinburgh to Reykjavik in a sleeveless puffy vest, tight trousers and spangled platform heels – all silver. The stage numbers are almost as flashy and ghastly as the real thing – we waited for – and got – the dry ice smoke, but were disappointed in our hopes for a contortionist.
Unlike the smooth and over-produced song contest, Eurovision the movie is clunky (starting with the name) and uneven. But also like the song contest, it is predictable, sugary, amusing, kind, funny, self-aware and earnest. Iceland is beautiful, Edinburgh is beautiful. Eurovision is beautiful. Any film that celebrates them is a must-watch.[And Another Thing: P agrees: this film is as simple and un-cerebral as it could be if not comatose, but great fun nevertheless and even kind of moving, in a sweet, elfin way. The film-makers have caught the Euro-feel and the essential warmth and collegiality of the contest. In a year without Eurovision-for-real, it is to be welcomed and congratulated.]