Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga review
I have a confession… I’m a huge fan of Eurovision. Granted, I’m not certain how much of a choice I had in this because for years, I was roommates with two people who have ties to Eurovision (a singer and a songwriter). The annual contest was required watching in our house, and it was a full-participation experience. We’d note our favorites, award our points, discuss our predictions… It was an event, but I loved it… And because of that love, I definitely think I enjoyed this movie even more due to my history and knowledge of Eurovision. So, if you’re completely unfamiliar with Eurovision, I recommend checking out What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Two small-town singers chase their pop star dreams at a global music competition, where scheming rivals, high stakes and onstage mishaps test their bond.
12 Points Go To…
In every sense of the meaning, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a “Will Ferrell movie” through and through. The formula is the same, the schtick is the same, and in many ways, there’s nothing new here. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this movie is bad. I mean Anchor Man, Stepbrothers, and Blades of Glory all have a positive reputation for a reason… They’re silly and fun. I don’t know if this film reaches those levels of greatness, especially for a general viewer, but if you’re a fan of Eurovision, then there’s plenty of content to enjoy here.
The story itself is simple enough. As the Icelandic native, Lars, Ferrell has hopes of winning the Eurovision song contest with his singing partner, longtime friend, potential love interest/ potential sister - but probably not - Sigrid (Rachel McAdams). While the backdrop of the contest helps give Fire Saga a unique flare to help it stand out, the real identity and joy of the film come from using Iceland as the backdrop. Icelandic natives are known for walking to the beat of their own drummer, and this film captures that allure quite well. In fact, my favorite aspect of this movie is how they captured the culture and community of Hosavik.
As for the depiction of Eurovision itself, The Story of Fire Saga definitely pokes fun at the odd features often found in the contest, but it never goes so far as to completely mock the competition. In fact, the tongue-in-cheek approach this film takes with Eurovision almost feels more like a love letter to the quirky, off-beat presence of the contest that Europe has come to embrace. The reality of the contest is that you’re always going to have one or two incredibly corny acts. Sometimes they’re purposely comedic, and many times it’s more of a “what were they thinking?”
The structure of the contest helps create a specific pathway for the narrative, but the script relies so heavily on a sketch-like nature that it ultimately becomes quite repetitive. There are only so many times that you can watch Fire Saga’s performances go wrong before it gets old. The fact that each one of these instances is followed by some form of redemption only makes the repetition worse. I’d much rather this time have been used to flesh out some of the supporting characters who were vastly more interesting – specifically Pierce Brosnan as Will Ferrell’s father, or the incredible Dan Stevens as Russia’s contestant, Alexander Lemtov.
Despite the repetitive nature of the plot, Ferrell and team try to change it up just enough to keep it somewhat fresh. What really makes Fire Saga a success though, is the heart that the film has. Once you get past all of the music, the camp, and the general quirky humor, there’s a decent message to be found here. I wish the script would have been edited in a way to highlight this aspect a little better, but it fully embraces this element during the film’s climax, where Sigrid gives a performance that actually gave me chills. I guess that’s not a terrible way to end a film.
Double Trouble Tonight!
The talent of the cast definitely makes Fire Saga worth your time. Will Ferrell brings the same man-child type of character to the screen that he’s known for. In many ways, Ferrell plays the comedic relief while McAdams is the “straight man.” Lars is viewed as the laughingstock of his hometown and has always felt he needs to win Eurovision to prove to everyone, especially his father, that he has worth. Ultimately, that desire is a little delusional – Sigrid honestly does a lot of the heavy lifting musically – but this reality only makes Ferrell’s performance more enjoyable.
As I mentioned earlier, Ferrell really excels when he’s able to embrace his one-liners and physical comedy. The duo’s performances tend to lend to his physical comedy strengths – which are always a riot. The dialogue is hit or miss as far as comedy is concerned though. I got a chuckle from Ferrell on a few occasions, but there weren’t many scenes where he made me actually laugh out loud – aside from a few scenes with American tourists!
The awkward and quirky relationship between Lars and Sigrid actually provides some of the funniest – and endearing – moments. There’s just something about the dovetailing, quirky banter between Ferrell and McAdams that works incredibly well, and I wish we could have had more of that. And, honestly, McAdams never really gets the chance to shine, comedically, as Ferrell does. I can’t help but feel that it’s a mistake that the filmmakers didn’t catch the brilliance of these two together, and script or ad-lib more instances of this between them. Whether it’s “sex-nuts,” “too much shit,” or “camel toes,” there’s just something infectiously cute in the awkwardness of Lars and Sigrid.
Speaking of Sigrid, by far, my favorite subplot exists because of her character’s belief in… elves. Yes, you read that correctly… There is apparently a superstition towards elves that many Icelanders share, and Sigrid is one of them. She visits their elf houses, leaves food and blessings, and asks for their support on more than one occasion. This is easily the best running joke of the entire movie and plays perfectly against Ferrell, who doesn’t believe in elves. The first time I actually laughed out loud during this movie is following a scene where Eurovision contestants are blown up, and Sigrid exclaims, “Oh no! The elves went too far!” It’s just brilliant from start to finish… especially the ending that’s given for the elf sub-plot.
McAdams does bring a certain earnestness to the film that helps ground the story. No matter how crazy or odd it gets, there are moments where she forces you to feel the emotional resonance of the scene. The musical numbers with Sigrid are especially memorable as well. While McAdams deserves some credit for the physical emoting, much of the credit needs to be given to Molly Sanden – an Icelandic singer who actually performs the songs.
On the opposite end of the scale though, you have Dan Stevens, the charismatic, flamboyant Russian, Alexander Lemtov. When I tell you that he steals every scene that he’s in, I’m not joking. His character and performance run the line of being a dated stereotype, but Stevens handles the role so magnificently that he prevents it from ever crossing that line. I would have easily taken more of him, and wish they would have touched a little more on his gay sub-plot as a Russian man.
And for all of you Demi Lovato fans, no I haven’t forgotten her… But she shows up for a whole five minutes, if that. So, if she’s the reason you plan on watching Fire Saga, you might want to know this going in. While I like Demi – and she does a fine job with her role here – I was honestly more excited to see actual, past Eurovision contestants and, dare I say, stars, featured in some cameos here. It seems like an obvious decision, but the inclusion of past contestants is bound to make any Eurovision fan love this film even more!
The Elves Went Too Far!
While there is plenty to love here, the film is also far from perfect. The repetition I mentioned earlier makes the film feel bloated. Had a better writer been on-hand, they probably would have noticed the repetition of performance/ disaster, performance/ disaster, performance/ disaster, and changed it up a bit. I mean, you could have easily left the national selection as it was scripted, then changed the semi-final performance to not include a disaster during the performance (or perhaps had it after), then left the final performance the same as well. As it was, it almost felt like watching different takes of the same scene.
Also, and I stated this earlier as well, the general comedy isn’t very strong here. There’s no doubt it’s better than Ferrell’s more recent films, but so much of the humor depends on a knowledge of Eurovision, otherwise, it will most likely just come off as random. And while there are some penis jokes and awkward scenarios, nothing is so incredibly funny that you'll remember the details of it and be discussing it with your friends a week from now.
Then, for the Eurovision enthusiasts out there, there are the technical errors concerning the contest itself. Considering so much detail and attention were put into various aspects of making the contest look and feel realistic, it’s odd that some glaring mistakes were made – especially for the production of the contest itself. Some people will be quick to point out the voting from the semi-final, as well as the fact that Spain had to compete in the semi-final (which I honestly laughed at, so maybe it was intentional). But, regardless, these are minor qualms in the grand scheme of things, and I feel that director, David Dobkin, did a solid job in bringing this to life without having it look like an absolute parody.
In the end, Fire Saga won’t be burning down the house, but it’s still an entertaining and enjoyable film if you go into it with the right expectations. Ferrell delivers as expected, McAdams shines, Stevens steals the show, and plenty of other stars make their presence known as well… And how can you dislike a movie that ends with an encore performance of “Jaja Ding Dong?” You can’t, my friends. You can’t. And if you think otherwise… The elves will come for you.
If you're interested in learning more about the actual Eurovision Song Contest, check back throughout the week, as I'll be sharing my favorite entries from previous years!