Lars Ericksson (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams) are aspiring musicians in an Icelandic fishing community with one dream: to represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest. When an unexpected accident takes out all of the other candidates, their once-in-a-lifetime chance arrives.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a new comedy based around the popular musical event that has attracted joy, love, ridicule, and scorn since it was established in 1956. To be blunt: the film – written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele and directed by David Dobkin – is absolutely terrible. To be honest, however: the film is also rather wonderful. With my head, I can find many ways to criticise its failures. With my heart, I am obliged to admit that I had an absolutely wonderful time watching it – and what is that, if not a perfect encapsulation of Eurovision itself?
The biggest surprise comes from just how much the film loves Eurovision itself. It would be easy to make a by-the-numbers Will Ferrell comedy, tearing down the festival with easy jokes and gags, cruel parodies, and mean-spirited finger-pointing. While there are plenty of jokes that address the fundamentally ridiculous nature of Eurovision, they almost entirely come from a place of genuine affection. While the film feels a little uncertain of itself at first, by the time it reaches a singer’s house party after the Semi-Finals the sheer unadulterated embracement of the event becomes clear. The makers of Fire Saga know that Eurovision is weirdly ridiculous, and camp, and impossible to take seriously – but they also know it is filled with joy, and optimism, and exists to make people happy. Fit with the tone and the rather atypical purpose, and Fire Saga is simply going to make you happy.
Will Ferrell remains an actor with comparatively limited range but an uncanny level of comic timing. Rachel McAdams – a much more accomplished actor with strong comedy talents to match – gives a wonderfully effective performance as Sigrit: deeply emotional, slightly crazy, and constantly charming. Two particular highlights among the supporting cast are Dan Stevens as a seductive Russian singer with a raft of humorous quirks, and Pierce Brosnan as Erick: a deadpan, humourless father who disapproves of Lars’ musican obsession. Both actors bring some of the film’s most successful comic moments.
By the standards of a typical movie comedy, Fire Saga performs weakly. There honestly are not as many jokes as one would expect, and the narrative is somewhat weak and drawn-out. It may run for two hours – always half an hour more than any screen comedy deserves to be – and follow a very predictable story. In this specific case none of that seemed to matter so much, because everyone involved seems to be having such a good time. The spirit is infectious: the music absolutely nails the Eurovision tone, and the humour is often odd enough to provoke moments of explosive unexpected laughter. The majority of comedy is often rather cruel; as the Mel Brooks quote goes, ‘tragedy is when I trip over and stub my toe, comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die’. Fire Saga is not that kind of comedy. It has a warm heart, and a gentle demeanour. People expecting a typical Ferrell comedy will possibly be disappointed. Those who wish comedy could just occasionally be nice for a while may find this a genuinely pleasant surprise. It’s terrible, and it’s brilliant; it’s Eurovision in a film.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is currently streaming worldwide via Netflix.