As an American, I’m only tangentially aware of the phenomenon that is the Eurovision Song Contest. I’ve only seen clips on YouTube and have heard a few of the bigger hits released over the years, but I love the concept of a musical competition between nations. This fueled my interest in this new Netflix film that pays homage to Europe’s annual celebration of music and culture. And it seems the producers of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga share my fascination and admiration…
The film chronicles the journey of musical duo Fire Saga—Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams)—and their dream to have a song entered for Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest. They’re not well-respected in their small-town of Húsavik, but their tune was picked at random to fulfil requirements for Iceland’s selection process since Katiana (Demi Lovato) is the shoo-in to win. Lars and Sigrit’s performance is panned, but when all the other contestants are killed in an explosion at the after-party, Iceland’s committee has no choice but to send in Fire Saga.
The plot of this film sets up the perfect underdogs: they’re full of heart and optimism, with Sigrit exhibiting true vocal talent, but her devotion to Lars hinders her potential. The audience will want to see Fire Saga succeed but the story takes its time developing the adverse circumstances that build against them. The comedy comes from how difficult it is for them to find respect as real contenders, yet it’s clear they have a talent and have worked hard to develop their act. Because of this, I often found the comedic aspects of the film were flat and forced. There are funny moments, but few and far between. While marketed as a comedy, it’s really an entertaining story of two naïve people performing on a world stage.
The romance in the movie is another dubious facet. The misunderstandings and Lars’s weird reluctance to commit to Sigrit feel like a routine establishment of romantic complications for a story that might’ve been better off focusing more on the contest and Fire Saga becoming a better team. It also pads out its runtime with a plot dragged down by Lars and Sigrid’s falling out. Midway through, I was growing weary of yet another Fire Saga performance thwarted by a ridiculous contrivance. Emotionally, the relationship between the pair also doesn’t come across as believable and I wanted to see more development of Fire Saga as musicians.
The celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest is the real reason to watch. This competition is beloved and the film does credit in realising such a gorgeously extravagant camp spectacle. And it’s like a primer for people who are not aware of this event—especially Americans (hilariously represented as clueless tourists Lars keeps insulting). It also portrays Iceland and the city of Edinburgh in Scotland so beautifully. The cinematography while filming on location is exquisite and observes that one of the parallel goals of Eurovision is to promote different countries as tourist destinations.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga seems to chronicle the steps to the Finals accurately and even features a soundtrack written in the style of catchy pop tunes suitable for Eurovision. The music is a highlight of the film, as the songs are fantastic! Fire Saga’s entry “Double Trouble” is performed multiple times throughout and I enjoyed hearing it every single time. There are also more effervescent tunes in Russia’s entry, with Alexander Lemtov’s (Dan Stevens) song “Lion of Love”, and the tribute to Lars’ and Sigrit’s love and hometown “Húsavik”. Former participants of Eurovision also receive featured performances, most memorably in the “song-along” sequence at Lemtov’s party where real-life singers Conchita Wurst, Loreen, Anna Odobescu, Netta, and others, turn up to sing in the clever mash-up of “Believe”, “Ray of Light”, “Waterloo”, “Ne Partez pas Sans Moi” and “I Gotta Feeling”. That sequence isn’t necessary to the story but is such a wonderful treat for Eurovision fans.
The soundtrack captures the unique intersection of music and culture that Eurovision presents. All of the performances are polished and entertaining and present a wonderful insight into why Eurovision is so fun to watch and has endured over the decades. Unfortunately, the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Netflix’s movie is something of a replacement spectacle.
Despite my love for the depiction of the contest throughout, the resolution is pretty unremarkable—especially since it focuses on the romance instead of the competition. There’s a twist near the end that brings up a plot point I’d nearly forgotten about, resolving a little mystery in the story quite neatly… but in a comedic and nonsensical way. I understand the emphasis of the plot was always on Lars and Sigrit’s relationship, but I wanted to see more of the bonkers world of Eurovision. However, the conclusion and the film as a whole is joyful, genuine, heartwarming, and celebratory… much like the real Eurovision Song Contest.
USA | 2020 | 123 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
director: David Dobkin.
writers: Will Ferrell & Andrew Steele (based on the Eurovision Song Contest by European Broadcasting Union).
starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, Demi Lovato, Graham Norton, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir & Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson.