Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a weird movie which makes sense since it’s about an excessively extravagant singing competition, seen through the eyes of a few excessively extravagant characters. It bobbles between mocking the entire proceedings also being an incredibly emotionally earnest musical celebration. This has solid performances throughout with some good, techno infused Europop songs throughout, and some really weirdly fantastical asides. The movie is a bit confused but the whole vibe of the thing is a bit confused so it works.
In a small Icelandic town, wannabe superstars Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) are the duo Fire Saga with dreams of making it to the big time Eurovision song contest, despite Lars’ father, Erik (Pierce Brosnan), continued distaste for Lars’ singing aspirations. Through a series of unlikely events and explosions, Fire Saga is selected to be Iceland’s representative at the Eurovision song contest, which makes Lars and Sigrit ecstatic. At the contest, they meet the strangely flamboyant Russian singer Alexander (Dan Stevens) and his friend Katiana (Demi Lovato). But the mounting pressure to succeed and the increasing artistic intrusions by the Eurovision crew on Fire Saga’s performance threatens to tear the lifelong friends apart.
Eurovision is directed by David Dobkin who usually does comedies like Wedding Crashes although his last movie was 2014’s way serious Robert Downey Jr. drama The Judge, so Eurovision is a return to form for him, of sorts. As this is a Netflix movie sometimes those films are a bit longer than they should be, so at over 2 hours Eurovision is a bit of a shaggy dog story. In Farrell comedies there are scenes that feature a lot of random improvisational riffing by Farrell which can have mixed results. There is a lot of setup with the Icelandic arts commission that oversees Fire Saga’s entry into the song contest that eats up a lot of screen-time. However, the explosive reason why Fire Saga was entered into Eurovision turns out to be pretty funny and bizarre, complete with Lars having frequent conversations with a half-exploded ghost apparition who is oddly unhelpful. Sigrit believing in elves increases her character’s quirkiness, but the elves subplot has a great payoff.
The main characters have a prescribed pre-conclusion breakup which is almost mandated structurally. Their break up occurs early on and there is a lot of asides until the two get back together, like Lars and his father having a cathartic confrontation on a fishing boat, and a madcap race with Lars yelling at loudmouthed Americans to drive faster. Also it’s kind of weird that in a heavily populated European city downtown, Lars’ and the Americans’ car seems to be the only vehicle for miles.
What makes some of these odd emotional turns work is largely due to the chemistry between Farrell and McAdams, which is very quirky and enjoyable. McAdams is strangely funny, unique and able to be sympathetic. Also just her random reactions to things are incredibly amusing. Both McAdams and Farrell are doing sometimes impenetrable Icelandic accents which is funny to hear at first and gets less funny as it goes on. Farrell is the louder, wilder one and his asides are kind of great. Brosnan’s snarly, snarky dad who is full on exhausted with his middle aged man child which is very similar to the dad in Farrell’s Step Brothers but Brosnan makes anything better. Lovato’s character is basically a walking temptation to drive a wedge between Lars and Sigrit who sings a few times. The most hilarious supporting character is Stevens’ Alexander with weird bits like him showing off his explicit collection of marble statues and his scenes with Sigrit have an amusingly bizarre vibe. Also he gets in a moment of unexpected pathos at the end when he reveals something about his character.
Eurovision has fantastic singing moments throughout, although it is odd that the movie starts feeling like parody but by the end it is totally earnest. One pastiche song features tracks like Cher’s “Believe”, Madonna’s “Ray of Light”, Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started” and more melding into a single tune which is actually kind of great. The best original song is right at the start with “Volcano Man” featuring Adams and Farrell in a weird music video that is truly awesome to behold. Stevens also gets a wild track called “Lion of Love” that is bizarrely over the top. The finale song that McAdams sings is surprisingly emotional, which makes the movie slightly more than just cynical satire.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a gleefully weird movie that mocks but eventually celebrates the entire eccentric feel of the competition. This is an enjoyable flick that is helped by famous actors doing silly accents the whole time, which is an easy way to get laughs but solid. And sometimes when the movie sings, it has rare moments of sonic beauty. And that Volcano Man music video remains fantastic.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Director: David Dobkin
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams and Dan Stevens