EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (NETFLIX) (2020)
SYNOPSIS: When aspiring musicians Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) are given the opportunity of a lifetime to represent their country at the world’s biggest song competition, they finally have a chance to prove that any dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for.
Like ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ and ‘Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby’, ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ has an equally overstuffed title as well as similar man-child buffoonery. Oh yes, those familiar with Ron and Ricky Bobby will recognise the same traits in Will Ferrell’s Lars Erickssong here, a middle-aged overgrown loser living in the obscure Icelandic fishing village of Húsavík whose dream is to enter and possibly win the Eurovision Song Contest.
Lars is not alone in his dream though; he is joined by fellow dreamer Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), his childhood friend and partner in song who has been in love with the oblivious Lars since young. Both have written and performed a number of original pop ballads together – including the opening number ‘Volcano Man’, which is both cheesy and catchy at the same time, complete with a Bjork-like music video with dramatic Icelandic vistas – although the local crowd at the bar only wants to hear them play the supposedly traditional folk song (it isn’t) ‘Jaja Ding Dong’.
Unsurprisingly, Lars’ stern fisherman father (Pierce Brosnan) disapproves of his son’s ambition, calling the latter an “idiot” and even going to the extent of selling away his house in order to force Lars to do something more with his life. As fate would have it, the ‘Fire Saga’ duo – as Lars and Sigrit call themselves – are called upon to complete the line-up for Söngvakeppnin, the requisite national pre-selection programme whose organisers already have in mind to choose Katiana (Demi Lovato in Khaleesi cos-play); but after a horrific boat explosion which kills the rest of the contestants, they find themselves on the way to Edinburgh where the contest that year is being held.
For the uninitiated, the Eurovision Song Contest is an actual annual phenomenon; created by the European Broadcasting Union, it pits each country on the continent against one another and counts among its distinguished alumni such successes as ABBA, Lulu and Celine Dion. In fact, the movie is produced by its organisers, which explains how it manages to assemble real-life winners and contestants as John Lundvik, Anna Odobescu, Bilal Hassani, Loreen, Jessy Matador, Alex Ryback and Netta Barzilai into an epic ‘song-along’ blending songs from Madonna, Cher, ABBA, Celine Dion and The Black Eyed Peas.
As co-written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele, the plot follows a familiar underdog narrative, as Lars and Sigrit make their way towards Eurovision glory while contending with distractions like the smug Russian billionaire crooner Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens). Misunderstandings, self-doubt and temptations will threaten to tear Lars and Sigrit away from each other just as they need one another the most, but equally, you’ll not expect anything less than a triumphant homecoming for the Fire Saga by the time the credits roll.
But thanks to director David Dobkin, it is still a riotous tale. There are sequences of true inspired lunacy, including a disastrous semi-finals stage performance of the duo’s composition ‘Double Trouble’ comes with wind machines, hamster wheels and a scarf that nearly strangles Sigrit, and Lemtov’s signature operatic number ‘Lion of Love’ that has the over-the-top singer prowling the stage like a zoo cat in heat with nearly naked chorus boys as his backup. It isn’t exaggerated extravagance though, as those familiar with the song contest will attest, but it is to Dobkin’s credit that he successfully channels the mix of glitter and glam into such a vivid approximation.
This isn’t the first time Dobkin and Ferrell have teamed up, and the results here are just as hilarious as their previous ‘Wedding Crashers’. Say what you will, but Ferrell has by now perfected his man-child routine, filling out the role of Lars with such theatricality that you cannot help but be entertained. McAdams proves a surprisingly effective comic foil, providing the perfect counter-balance to Ferrell’s extremes with a sunny and sincere performance which will melt your heart.
Frankly, it’s been a while since we’ve had as much fun with a Ferrell movie as this one, and we dare say this is right up there with some of his best like ‘Anchorman’, ‘Blades of Glory’ and ‘Talladega Nights’. It has uproarious moments, an infectious mix of cheese and cheer, and a delightfully campy spirit true to the Eurovision institution. Those who follow will know that this year’s version to be held in Rotterdam was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this Netflix movie is as timely a substitute as any; indeed, it is a perfect antidote for a world which desperately needs consolation.
Review by Gabriel Chong