Director: David Dobkin
Writers: Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan
When Icelandic musicians Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrid (McAdams) are finally given the chance to realise their lifelong dream of representing their country at the Eurovision song contest, scheming rivals, onstage mishaps and creative differences threaten to ruin that dream.
I think it is fair to say that Will Ferrell is a bit of marmite-type actor in that many just cannot stand him and are unlikely to like anything that he turns up in. I personally find him quite creepy, but find his films to be hit and miss, however with the likes of Holmes & Watson and Downhill he has certainly had more recent misses than hits. Well, the Eurovision Song Contest is an interesting subject choice as it means the film is likely to alienate most audiences outside Europe (except Australia – they love it so much they have been allowed to enter it!) and the huge number of Europeans that hate it – as with Will Ferrell, people in my experience tend to love or hate Eurovision, with very little people being in the middle.
This does make Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (ironically Eurovision songs do have a tendency to be extremely catchy – unlike that mouthful of a title!) very difficult to review, whether you like the film is going to pretty much depend on how much you like both Will Ferrell and Eurovision. I personally absolutely love Eurovision and consider this annual camp extravaganza to be one of the highlights of the year, and so for that reason I may well give this film a kinder review than some others who do not sure my affection for Eurovision.
One person who obviously does share my affection for the contest is Will Ferrell himself; it is a well known fact that his Swedish wife introduced him to Eurovision some years ago and he has been a huge fan ever since. It is very easy (and in my view very lazy) to mock and sneer at the intentional flamboyance of Eurovision (as well as the politics of geographical neighbours voting for each other and everyone refusing to vote for the UK irrespective of how good our song may actually be), but there is obvious affection and understanding of the competition demonstrated by Ferrell and those involved in the film. Well, in terms of understanding there is one glaring plot hole in that the competition is held in Edinburgh, which suggests that the United Kingdom won the year before – which would certainly never happen! It does however allow for some lovely shots of Edinburgh landmarks, so maybe the film is funded in part by the Edinburgh tourist board, pardon my cynicism!
The Story of the Fire Saga is undoubtedly at its best when showing the various parts of the actual competition – especially the songs that are performed. Eurovision is about both the music and the spectacularly staged performances of the various genres of songs (it is not just about cheesy euro pop) and this film gets this completely right and truly is a pleasure to watch during these points – especially as Eurovision was (very understandably) cancelled this year. Those outside Europe that may be less acquainted with the wonder that is Eurovision may find this hard to believe, but none of the outrageous songs and performances within this film would feel out of place in the real thing – indeed some of them would certainly be very strong contenders for winning!
The rest of the film however is not so good; a cheesy and predictable plot is not only forgivable but very much suitable to a film about Eurovision, but the film itself is just incredibly baggy, disjointed and not especially funny. I am always of the opinion that (with very few exceptions) films that intended to be primarily comedies should not exceed 90 minutes. There are scenes and minor subplots that should have just been left on the cutting room floor as they are sometimes just very boring and add nothing to the overall plot, and in some cases feel like they may add an interesting element but then come to nothing and seem to be completely forgotten about by the screenwriters, who probably just hope the viewer has forgotten about them! In terms of the actual ‘comedy’; while some of the more slapstick elements of performances going wrong or mild racism aimed at American tourists are quite amusing, there is an inevitable tendency for this film to be all about Will Ferrell (he is also writer and producer after all!) and so the inescapable moments where he does his usual manic screaming (his lame attempt at some kind of Icelandic accent completely stops at these points) are just annoying.
Of the rest of the cast Rachel McAdams is decent as Sigrid (and it is apparently her singing sometimes, but not the higher notes) but as this is Ferrell’s film, she is very much relegated to co-star. Pierce Brosnan not only makes a lot more effort with his Icelandic accent (to me it sounded quite decent, but I am of course not the best judge) and is also very good as Lars’ disapproving father. However, the star of the film is Dan Stevens as camp Russian singer Alexander Lemtov he is thoroughly enjoying himself in an over the top performance that is in perfect Eurovision tradition (but he has some traits that are not thought of too kindly in Russia). Oh, and then there is UK presenter Graeme Norton doing his usual thing, which is quite amusing. Though I doubt he would be presenting the Icelandic coverage – perhaps each country has its own cut with its own native presenter used? Let’s hope so.
Though it does take a bit off effort to get there, the film’s final third is definitely its best part, and does contain a decent enough finale, but this is mainly down to the quality of the songs. As the film is on Netflix and doesn’t require any extra expense it is certainly worth a watch as it is not especially challenging on the brain, but this film is ultimately a wasted opportunity as it could and should have been much better. For a much better film about Eurovision (that has a better story) I recommend the Israeli film Cupcakes (review).
The fact it is made with obvious affection for and understanding of its subject matter means that Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga certainly has just enough to please the millions that love Eurovision and everything it represents. However, for both those that despise it and the uninitiated outside Europe, the film’s overlong running time and lacklustre storytelling means it is unlikely to have many redeeming features.
At time of writing Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available to stream on Netflix