The following is a review of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — Directed by David Dobkin.
David Dobkin’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is an American straight-to-Netflix comedy about a fictional band’s journey to the Eurovision Song Contest, an international song competition that celebrates pop music. It is, essentially, the European Championship of pop music. In the song contest, each country has a representative who must belt out an original popular song and attempt to win the grand prize of a microphone-shaped glass trophy, as well as the right to have their country host the song contest the following year.
Ever since they first heard ABBA’s “Waterloo,” Lars Erickssong (played by Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (played by Rachel McAdams) have wanted to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Together, they are Fire Saga, an insignificant Icelandic pop duo that performs at their local pub regularly. Due to a freak accident and the fact that Iceland cannot afford to host the event, Fire Saga is suddenly selected to be the Icelandic representatives. While Lars is focused on preparing for their performances so that they can fulfill their dream, Sigrit desperately wants Lars to realize that they belong together romantically. Meanwhile, the Russian competitor, Alexander Lemtov (played by Dan Stevens), has his eyes on Sigrit, who feels ignored by Lars.
I watch the Eurovision Song Contest every year. In the early 2000s, I was obsessed with Olsen Brothers’ “Fly on the Wings of Love,” and, for the last five-to-ten years, I’ve cheered on Italian selections like Marco Mengoni’s “L’essenziale,” and Francesco Gabbani’s “Occidentali’s Karma.” Is the contest overlong and corny? Perhaps, but I actually really love to watch the show. At least, until the votes are tallied and the points are awarded, but that’s neither here nor there. In any case, as a Eurovision fan, I was pretty impressed with the movie. Maybe it is simply because I was worried that they would make this into an unfunny, gross-out studio comedy. But that is not at all the case. Perhaps this film avoided that precisely because Will Ferrell, who also produced and co-wrote the film, has probably been introduced to the contest by his Swedish wife, Viveca Paulin, who, I imagine, must have a good relationship with the contest.
To be clear, this is not a great movie, but it is not at all what I feared it would be. The Story of Fire Saga is silly but surprisingly sweet. It isn’t a gross-out comedy and it isn’t a laugh-a-minute comedy either. Dobkin and co-writers Ferrell and Andrew Steele have found a sweet spot for the film’s tone. But I also think that it takes some time before you get used to what the film is going for. The opening flashback is sweet, but, otherwise, the opening half of the film, which mostly takes place in Iceland, was hit-or-miss for me. However, I loved the scenes wherein a loud Icelandic man would scream at the top of his lungs that he really wanted to hear their song “Ja Ja Ding Dong.” It is very silly, but it’s also the first thing in the movie that actually really made me laugh. The biggest problem with the film, however, is that it is just very predictable. You anticipate pretty much every single plot point before they happen.
But the film has a lot of neat little references to the actual show that put a smile on my face. I found myself correcting the movie along the way, but, moments later, Dan Stevens’ character or Graham Norton, who makes an appearance as himself, would make the very same points that I did. I will also say that there are a lot of really fun Eurovision celebrity cameos here and there, and the irresistible cameo-heavy “song-along” sequence is a lot of fun. However, my favorite thing about the movie could be that almost every original song that they have made specifically for this movie was amusing, appropriate, or catchy. What I am trying to say is that many of the Eurovision songs in The Story of Fire Saga could’ve easily been written for the actual Eurovision Song Contest.
Will Ferrell has his funny moments, but it is Rachel McAdams, who, with Game Night, proved that she is a great comedic actor, that walks away with their scenes together. We know that Ferrell can play characters like Lars, but it was nice to see that McAdams was ready and able to match his silliness. However, I think the film would’ve been better if McAdams had been paired up with an actor who could match McAdams in the more romantic and emotional scenes. I’m not entirely sure Ferrell was right for his role. Pierce Brosnan, who played Lars’ disappointed but handsome father, didn’t work as well for me as I had hoped. But Dan Stevens, on the other hand, was a scene-stealer in this movie. After having now seen him give a memorable and delightful performance as an over-the-top and mischievous Eurovision competitor, I really want to see Dan Stevens take part in more comedies.
The question that I keep on coming back to, however, is whether or not this movie will work outside of Europe. For one, the aforementioned song-along sequence probably won’t be as exciting, if you can’t recognize the celebrity cameos. Also, Ferrell has several scenes wherein his character screams at and criticizes Americans, and I would like to hear how those scenes made Americans feel. I will say, though, that I did like the scene where Ferrell’s character angrily rejected the notion that, as one of the American tourists suggests, the Eurovision Song Contest was just like The Voice. I should also say that the film doesn’t just point fingers at Americans, it also strongly criticizes Russia and makes a little bit of fun of Iceland.
Dobkin’s predictably plotted The Story of Fire Saga is overlong and not at all as funny as it could’ve been. However, I have to say that in spite of all these significant problems with the film, I had a blast with it. Dan Stevens and Rachel McAdams are just fun to watch here, and the songs are undeniably catchy. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is not a complete home-run, but, in a year where there is no actual Eurovision Song Contest, it is actually somehow exactly what I needed the film to be. It isn’t as good as the real show, but it is a silly and sweet tribute that actually featured some pretty solid pop songs, which should be enough for fans, like me, that miss the contest right now.
6.5 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.