Since 1956, Eurovision has been a constant in pop culture. Eligible European countries have sent artists to represent them in this grand song-writing competition full of glitz, glamour, crushing embarrassments, and soaring successes. It’s a spectacle that everyone should have the opportunity to experience at some point. Sadly, due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, Eurovision won’t be happening this year. In its stead comes Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, a Netflix original comedy aiming to capture the magic of the contest proper.
Directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), Eurovision Song Contest follows Icelandic musicians Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), collectively known as “Fire Saga”. While their townpeople ridicule them, they have big dreams of making it to the Eurovision Song Contest. When their shot finally arrives, they find more obstacles than they expected. A brewing romance between Lars and Sigrit, technical difficulties, and a sexed-up Russian competitor (Dan Stevens) are just the beginning of what stands in their way to glory.
On the surface level, Eurovision Song Contest appears to be another throwaway Will Ferrell comedy. Here we have Ferrell doing another broad caricature, this time of a wacky European singer. David Dobkin’s direction is the kind of serviceable filmmaking that marked his lesser movies like Fred Claus and Shanghai Knights. The script, for the most part, indulges in simple, often running gags that are inoffensive, if slightly tired.
So that’s it, right? Eurovision Song Contest is a silly Netflix comedy we can forget about when the next one comes along, yes? Well… no. Notice I said that the script “for the most part” relies on simple gags. That’s because when Ferrell and co-writer Andrew Steele aren’t trying to get to the next gag, they’re actually telling a story both affectionate for its characters and Eurovision as a whole. Ferrell, yes, is playing a wacky foreigner. But he’s also playing someone with big dreams in spite of the scolding of his father. McAdams, meanwhile, is electric as Sigrit, a similar dreamer with a big talent and a child-like belief in elves. Together, they make up the kind of underdog heroes an audience can’t help but root for.
McAdams and Ferrell are a power duo who take us through a film that, in spite of itself, shows a genuine affection for everything Eurovision. Costume and production design go a long way in capturing every facet of the Eurovision Song Contest experience. One has to remember this is most nations in Europe representing themselves on a continental stage in the biggest ways possible. Because of this, the filmmakers play the clash of different cultural identities for wonder and not for laughs. The soundtrack is full of great original songs, such as “Volcano Man”, “Double Trouble”, and the show-stopping climactic “Husavik”. Seeing these bozos fight to reach the top of a myriad of talented, different performers is a strong arc. It’s been done before, but not at Eurovision.
A microcosm of Eurovision Song Contest comes halfway through. Lars and Sigrit are invited to participate in something called a “Song-a-long”. This turns into a song mash-up that appears to be nothing more than the same kind of droll, jukebox-mining fare the Pitch Perfect franchise peddled during the 2010s. Then, one begins to notice that the majority of the performers are past Eurovision winners, who all giving their soul into the performance. The sequence builds and builds, culminating in a rapturous display of unseen prowess from Sigrit. Something cynical and overdone became something truly joyful.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga may not win any awards. In fact, it’s standard as a comedy. But it fits right into one of my favorite genres, one which I coin “Sunday Afternoon Core”. These are films you can watch on a Sunday afternoon that don’t require much input from the viewer, wielding a few chuckles and a lot of smiles. It’s a fun representation of the appeal of Eurovision, buoyed by all-in lead performances and heartfelt tribute to the contest itself. It ain’t Eurovision, but it’ll do. –James Preston Poole
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is now streaming on Netflix.
The film stars Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, and Demi Lovato.