Every now and then you come across a film that is a light in a dark place. A film so utterly kitsch and flamboyant that it could make Baz Luhrmann weep with jealousy. A film so completely wild that you couldn’t even conceive the idea yet leaves you wondering how you lived without it. In short: a film that reaffirms your faith in humanity itself. In a year of untold atrocities, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is such a film, and I will never recover from it.
Will Ferrell’s and Rachel McAdams’ comic delivery as the small-town Icelandic duo and wannabe Eurovision contenders Fire Saga is perfect, their unexpected chemistry lighting up the film. Channelling Blades of Glory with impressive flair, Ferrell completely nails his role but is only eclipsed by the incomparable McAdams. Throughout many years of watching Eurovision, I don’t recall ever getting this invested; life feels enriched because of this glorious creation.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Director: David Dobkin
Release date: June 28, 2020
Since he was a boy, Lars Erikssong‘s (Ferrell) dream has always been to compete in Eurovision. For years, he and his almost-girlfriend Sigrit Ericksdottir (McAdams) have been performing their songs in their hometown, Husavik. Forever playing a man-child who just won’t let go of his dreams, Ferrell is genuinely convincing as Lars — you could say it’s an Elf sequel — and his stoic and overbearing father Erik constantly looks down on him. There are also a host of brilliant, shouty locals and in true small-town fashion, it’s a tight-knit community (and everyone’s probably related.)
The questionable accents are just a taste of some of the Nordic caricatures in the film. Sigrit, a comely folk girl through and through, believes in Elves and prays to them at a rustic shrine in the hills, pleading for a chance at victory. The Icelandic folklore also extends to the mystic speorg note – a legendary note you’re supposed to hit when you sing with enough conviction. These folktales are shrouded in mystery.
But for all this, Lars dreams of more. He’s dissatisfied but determined as ever, and he gets lucky: Fire Saga is chosen for the contest against all odds, and the duo jet off to Edinburgh to fulfil their destiny.
I’ve never understood the world’s hatred for Eurovision. Where some would despise the crass outfits, the ludicrous backing dancers, the abjectly overblown sets, the air-grabs, and the shameless singing into rotating cameras — others see an opportunity for an epic party. Contestants from all over Europe (and – inexplicably – Australia?) gather together in a melee of questionable musical offerings, sing their lungs out, and take part in a vote so politically charged it would put modern leaders to shame. It’s stupid and it’s dated, but it’s unmissable.
Eurovision the film is all of the glorious things about this beautiful carnival rolled into a feature. It’s saturated with cameos, from Natasia Demetriou to Demi Lovato to Conchita Wurst, and the one and only Graham Norton giving Nordic countries sass. There is CGI so naff you will question your sanity. The anarchy of a Ferrell-brand comedy meets a wild blend of EDM, power ballads and Europop, all you could ever hope for.
To address the most obvious point: America has never been involved in Eurovision. So is the film a petty jab at the fact? You might say so. But Ferrell is conscious about it: Lars hurls abuse at a group of happy-go-lucky American tourists who seem to confuse his threats with European humour and laugh confusedly. If Europeans and Americans have never understood each other’s sense of humour, the film takes the opportunity to exploit the fact to an extreme degree.
It goes without saying, but the music is absolutely spot-on. From anthemic euro-beats to a gorgeous Parisian lullaby suite for quiet moments, it’s a score of unexpected range and some gems amid the huge hooks. All I need to leave you with is the song Ja Ja Ding Dong — perhaps the greatest song of this generation.
Hands-down the best supporting performance is from Dan Stevens (a far cry from his Downton Abbey days), wonderful as the Russian oligarch Alexander Lemtov with a gorgeous singing voice. I’d go so far as to say he’s as endearing as Stranger Things’ Aleksi. Backing Alexander up is a host of colourful characters: English producer Kevin Swain, Swedish rapper Johnny John John, Viking death metal group Moon Fang. Don’t ask me: I don’t know why Vikings are singing along to a vein of pop that belongs to Cardi B, Ariana Grande, and Lady Gaga, but it just works and it’s magical.
Any first-time viewer will tell you that the Song-a-long is the most memorable part of the ensemble. Pitch Perfect meets Greatest Showman: it somehow manages to surpass both of those and the sum is greater than the parts. A cacophony of autotune and glam rock, it feels a bit like you’ve stumbled into an overzealous theatre-kid gathering. Soaring to the top of the charts across the world this week, the soundtrack is so joyful and affirming it will keep you upbeat for days.
The momentum builds as we’re eagerly anticipating tournaments, voting, and chronically cheerful European news anchors. There are rivalries and tears, but unexpectedly sentimental moments too. There’s also a quiet but noticeable political undercurrent — it seems as if the financial security of Iceland relies solely on its Eurovision victory. Unlikely — but then again, in this day and age, anything can happen.
It can seem formulaic; but even if the plot is sometimes predictable, it’s extremely satisfying no matter what. We see Lars and Sigrit grow, the relationship between the two of them and the people in their lives developing. It’s as much a silly ode to following your dreams as it is a celebration of the joy of bringing people together with music and a stand-in for this year’s canceled contest.
As someone with a pathological obsession with musicals in all shapes and forms, I think I’ve finally met my match. I’ve not been this inspired by something since Bo Burnham dropped Make Happy and I thought of nothing else for two months. I will hear no evil about this film: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is everything you want it to be and more.