The Eurovision Song Contest is great. It’s a colourful, chaotic celebration of camp in which the countries of Europe embrace the weirder corners of their music industry — Ireland has recently been represented by a talking turkey and Jedward, twice — and Britain fields a super serious balladeer who ends up finishing last. The Netflix comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a mostly earnest love letter to the competition’s madness, albeit an ode of affection spread over a very uneven two hours.
Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Icelandic childhood friends Lars and Sigrit, who have dreamed of entering Eurovision as duo Fire Saga ever since they witnessed ABBA singing Waterloo as kids. Lars’s father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) thinks his son is wasting his life, and Lars certainly seems oblivious to Sigrit’s romantic feelings. A contrivance ripped from the first Johnny English movie means that, despite being utterly terrible, Fire Saga find themselves on their way to Edinburgh — a UK win is the film’s most obviously fictional detail — to represent their nation at the contest.
It’s all as ridiculous as you’d expect from an underdog comedy and the schematic script by Ferrell and Andrew Steele cycles through entirely predictable beats, including a hidden villain subplot that should have been excised from the movie way before it ever reached screens. There’s no escaping the looming spectre of that two-hour running time, which is frankly grotesque for a movie of this ilk. Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin — last seen at the helm of flop drama The Judge — does absolutely nothing to justify the bloated state of the narrative.
The Story of Fire Saga is a strange, ungainly beast that seems to sprout a new subplot every few minutes, with none of them given any real care and attention. Rather than providing opportunities for depth, each under-served development simply adds minutes to the running time and detracts from the central relationship between Ferrell and McAdams — the heart of the story. The film is at its strongest when it strips back the extravagant plotting and focuses in on the ludicrous world of Eurovision, and of how Fire Saga fits into it.
Fortunately, Eurovision has a handful of comedic X-factors in its back pocket. Firstly, McAdams is effervescent and hilarious as Sigrit, continuing to prove herself as one of Hollywood’s most imaginative and talented comedy performers in the wake of her outstanding work alongside Jason Bateman in Game Night. Dan Stevens, meanwhile, is terrific as the Russian entry — a smooth-talking, ultra-sexy, charismatic crooner with designs of wooing Sigrit. Both leave Ferrell largely in the dust as he sleepwalks through the same, now properly tired shtick we’ve all seen a million times before.
Then there are the songs. Eurovision music has a very particular tone and this movie absolutely nails it. From Fire Saga’s utterly ridiculous Volcano Man to their rousing final anthem Husavik — essentially a camped-up take on Glasgow from Wild Rose — every track will stir the hearts of any Eurovision fan. The movie is on uncertain ground throughout, but the energy and comedy notably amps up whenever the music starts, with the exception of a bizarre mid-movie mash-up sequence that appears to have been pilfered entirely from Pitch Perfect.
And that’s often the problem with The Story of Fire Saga. In its willingness to nick various ideas from other, better movies and slap them incongruously on to its own framework, it feels like a disappointing vessel for some of the better ideas at its heart, which are drowned by the sheer amount of noise surrounding them. In many ways, nothing says Eurovision more than that.
Dir: David Dobkin
Scr: Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Will Ferrell, Dan Stevens, Pierce Brosnan, Melissanthi Mahut, Demi Lovato, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Graham Norton, Mikael Persbrandt, Jamie Demetriou, Natasia Demetriou
Prd: Jessica Elbaum, Eitan Evan, Will Ferrell, Chris Henchy
DOP: Danny Cohen
Music: Atli Örvarsson
Run time: 123 mins
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available on Netflix now.