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A song of Iceland and Fire Saga - ‘Eurovision Song Contest’

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If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what would happen if you were to combine ABBA with Bjork, divide that into into two people and enter the result in the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, thanks to Will Farrell and Netflix, we finally have an answer.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” – directed by David Dobkin and starring Ferrell (who also co-wrote the script) and Rachel McAdams – is the story of a mismatched pair of Icelandic oddballs whose strange band accidentally winds up representing their country in the legendary Eurovision Song Contest.

This is a legitimately weird movie, one that revels in its sense of exaggerated cultural absurdity and is unapologetic in its steadfast refusal to concern itself with making sense. It is both celebration and satire, a goofy love letter to Eurovision that leans into the over-the-top pomp and circumstance that helps define the beloved contest. It is relentlessly ridiculous, loose and shaggy and rife with inexplicable accents. It is a movie that won’t be everyone’s cup of brennivin, but if you’re into it, you will be INTO IT.

Real talk: I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, but your mileage definitely may vary.

Ferrell stars as Lars Erickssong, a middle-aged man living in the small Icelandic village of Husavik. Since he was a kid, he has been obsessed with the idea of competing in the Eurovision song contest; he and his childhood best friend Sigrit Erickdottir (McAdams) have been making music together for years as the band Fire Saga. Lars has passion, but it far outweighs his talent; Sigrit is the truly musically gifted of the pair. Everyone else mocks Lars’ dream – especially his disappointed father Erick (Pierce Brosnan, TV’s “The Son”).

They submit to Iceland’s pre-selection process for the contest and wind up getting randomly picked to fill out the lineup, only to completely flop (the winner is played by a clearly-enjoying-herself Demi Lovato). But when a tragic incident removes all of the other participants from the picture, Fire Saga is in – they’re off to Edinburgh for Eurovision.

And all the while, there are people rooting against their success. Erick has little use for his son’s crazy dreams even as they begin to play out. In addition, Icelandic officials like Victor Karlosson (Mikael Persbrandt, TV’s “Sex Education”) are delighted at Fire Saga’s misadventures, believing that the country can’t afford to host the competition should Iceland’s entry win.

Once they arrive, Lars and Sigrit are overwhelmed by the glitz and glamour of it all. They meet a number of the other competitors – Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens, TV’s “Legion”), the Russian singer who is favored to win the contest, and Greek singer Mita (Melissanthi Mahut, TV’s “The Other Me: Lost Souls”) take a liking to them – and get swept up into the scene. However, the tension between Sigrit and Lars – specifically, Lars’ cluelessness with regards to Sigrit’s long-unrequited love for him – mounts as the pressures of the contest build.

Will Fire Saga’s flames roar? Or will they be extinguished by a dash of cold reality?

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is a strange and celebratory viewing experience. While many people on this side of the Atlantic aren’t tremendously familiar with Eurovision, it has been a wildly popular going concern in Europe for over half a century. It’s the contest that introduced the world to ABBA, for instance, as well as Celine Dion and many others. It is a notoriously outrageous event – one for which Ferrell and company clearly bear great affection.

Parody is tough to pull off effectively in the best of circumstances; striking the right note when parodying something with which your audience may lack familiarity is even harder. Luckily, Eurovision by its very nature is ripe for this kind of treatment; by approaching the spectacle of the thing with a deadpan eye for the absurdity of it all, the filmmakers find laughs that will likely land regardless of the viewer’s familiarity with Eurovision.

And the spectacle is very much present onscreen, with Dobkin and company taking great pains to recreate the gaudy scale of the Eurovision finals. They craft some grand production numbers and have come up with a handful of legitimate bangers for songs, which is vital – if they don’t give us some good pop tunes, this movie just doesn’t work.

Ferrell finds his laughs, offering up another take on the sincere good-hearted idiot. His wide-eyed cluelessness works well for this sort of underdog tale, as does his unwavering commitment. And McAdams makes a perfect foil, bringing her own credulousness to full bear. She projects a sweet, smiling energy that suits this role beautifully. The two of them together – especially onstage – are great fun to watch.

The supporting cast is having a heck of a time. Brosnan is a growling scowling hoot as Lars’s dad, the very model of steely Scandinavian disappointment. Stevens mines Eurotrash gold from his turn as the preening Lemtov. Lovato is great. Graham Norton shows up as himself and has some fun of his own And the film is dotted with cameos from past Eurovision contestants.

Yes, I’ve sung this movies praises, but it has plenty of issues. It’s a good 20 minutes longer than it has to be, with some fairly flat stretches. We’ve seen a lot of this before from Ferrell, albeit in different contexts. And the sheer goofiness largely undercuts any vague efforts at character development. Again – none of that really bothers me, but I can certainly see how it might impact others’ enjoyment.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is an undeniably joyful movie, offering full-throated parodic praise for an event that the filmmakers clearly adore. Sure, it’s bizarre and confusing and overlong, but it is also delightfully garish and laden with faux-European spectacle. It’s not for everyone, but as far as I’m concerned, they were singing my song.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Sunday, 28 June 2020 20:20

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