Netflix UK film review: Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga
Ivan Radford | On 28, Jun 2020
Director: David Dobkin
Cast: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens
Watch Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga online in the UK: Netflix UK
“Who wants to hear our Eurovision song?” asks Lars (Will Ferrell) as he performs with Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) in their local pub in Húsavík, Iceland. The response is a loudly resound no, and it’s not hard to imagine that response happening in many households. The word “Eurovision”, like many words these days, is a divisive one, as some people are bewildered by the international singing competition and others are bewitched. Netflix commissioning a comedy about it, then, might sound like a strange move from an American company, which doesn’t even participate in the European tournament. But what gradually emerges through the 123-minute film is that it isn’t a mockery of Eurovision at all: it’s a love letter to it.
That may well flummox audiences tuning in for a two-hour Will Ferrell comedy that laughs at the tournament and giggles at the silly costumes or eccentric competitors. But while there is extravagance, eccentricity and silliness in abundance, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga asks us to laugh with the whole thing, in the same way that many fans in the UK today have reconciled their ironic detachment from a contest that the UK normally fails at with a secret fondness of the annual tradition. Because Eurovision is, despite its flamboyance, utterly earnest, disarmingly so, and that same spirit is at the heart of Fire Saga.
Ferrell, whose wife is Swedish and introduced him to the contest, is evidently a fan – he and co-writer Andrew Steele line up cameos aplenty, from Sweden’s 2019 entry John Lundvik and Israel’s 2018 champion Netta to Austrian icon Conchita, who won in 2014. Even Portugal’s 2017 winner Salvador Sobral is a busker in the background at one point. The inclusion of Graham Norton as the only TV pundit to commentate on the film’s version of the 2020 tournament (cancelled in real life) is a telling indicator that this film’s sentiments lie on this side of the pond rather than over in America.
Fire Saga, of course, aren’t a real band, but their musical offerings are wonderfully convincing, beginning with “Volcano Man” before the Icelandic pub audience demand they instead play their homegrown favourite, “Jaja Ding Dong”. With former Junior Eurovision winner Molly Sanden providing Sigrit’s singing voice, they have just the right balance of cheese and catchy pop grooves to stay stuck in your head for days – although Iceland only initially picks the band to try and avoiding winning altogether. (The other entry, played with a fiery brilliance by Demi Lovato, lingers long enough to make an impression.)
Once at the tournament, Lars and Sigrit find themselves facing off against a host of more competent groups – most notably Alexander Lemtov, Russia’s entry, who’s played with gloriously scene-stealing glam by Dan Stevens. His song, “Lion of Love”, is part-techno, part-afternoon safari trip and all kinds of fabulous, and watching him face off against our lead duo is when the film is at its funniest.
Rachel McAdams, in particular, is wonderfully cast as Sigrit, given a rare chance to take a leading comedy role; hot on the heels of 2019’s Game Night, it cements her as an underappreciated comic talent. Her deadpan delivery of speeches about elves and the nervous performance of a song about her hometown could only be done with just the right mix of sincerity and absurdity – Pierce Brosnan, as Lars’ handsome father, Erick, is equally heartfelt beneath his gruff beard.
Hints that said elves might actually be real, and a rousing musical finale that puts Sigrit centre-stage, all add up to a film that’s kinder than it is cruel. A line from Lemtov about there being “no gays in Russia” brings a depth and understanding of the current, horrible culture in that country that could easily be missing in a film that also crafts an inspired set piece around a hamster wheel stage prop – every Eurovision act’s nightmare. Another moment that sees Ferrell take the time to remember “the other guy” from Wham! emphasises that The Story of Fire Saga is one of the warmest movies of 2020 so far.
That, however, doesn’t necessarily make for a flawless comedy. With two hours to fill, there are many moments where jokes are, unfortunately, missing. These are undoubtedly marks of missed opportunities (mostly opportunities to trim down scenes to be tighter), but they don’t take away from what the film gets right. A sequence halfway through, which owes a debt to Pitch Perfect, stuffs the screen with as many former Eurovision contestants as possible, who all join together in one giant singalong. If you find yourself joining in with a smile, good news: this is exactly what you need to survive until Eurovision next year.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.