Before delving into the good and bad of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, the new Netflix comedy from writers Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele, it’s probably important to note that Ferrell became a massive fan of the bonkers singing competition after learning about its existence from his Swedish wife. No matter the results, Eurovision has seemingly been put together with a large amount of love. It sings from the heart, to paraphrase the film’s own barometer.
Oh if only that was enough. The film follows Iceland’s Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) who, after becoming entranced by ABBA at 1974’s Eurovision Song Contest, have made it their mission to conquer it themselves. When pure chance and an unfortunate accident mean they’re their nation’s defacto entry, they must navigate both the other contestants’ efforts to sabotage and their own interpersonal issues.
It’s not a bad premise for a throwaway comedy and could have been a really fun romp with the right jokes. It certainly doesn’t lack for talent, with McAdams committing to the material with typical wit and charm and Pierce Brosnan capitalising on his infamous turn in the Mamma Mia films as Lars’ disapproving father (Brosnan is 14-years older than Ferrell, we checked).
But the material never lives up to the concept, forgetting to dip into the level of surrealist parody that Ferrell is known for and lacking any real laugh lines along the way. The film’s second half improves on the first entirely due to the appearance of Dan Stevens as Alexander Lemtov – Russia’s golden goose who delivers the kind of homoerotic extravaganza that Eurovision does best.
There are promising threads that are unceremoniously dropped, like the idea that Iceland doesn’t actually want to win the contest if it means spending millions on hosting the following year, or the ghost of a flaming Demi Lovato popping up to warn Lars of imminent danger.
Stevens single-handedly elevates the film from 1 to 2-star territory and is the only character that really embraces the wackiness of Eurovision as the cult of camp and posture it has always been for fans. The joy of the contest is often that it takes itself entirely seriously while knowing full well that everything is ridiculous, and watching Fire Saga prance around the stage just doesn’t tap into that.
The final musical number, however, almost gets there, and there’s a full-blown musical sequence in the middle that is undoubtedly the film’s highlight. Playing like the love letter that Ferrell presumably intended to write, it welcomes iconic acts of the past (check the cast list if you want to be spoiled) in a sing-off that’s just damn fun to witness.
There’s absolutely no need for the film to be over two-hours, crawling to its conclusion and shedding a lot of goodwill in the process. The repetition of admittedly enjoyable musical numbers doesn’t help matters, with rehearsals, semi-finals and finals all drawing from the same well and delivering diminishing results.
But the caveat with anything Eurovision-related is that, if you’re the type of person who throws yearly parties and was robbed of that tradition in 2020, this could very well fill the gap quite nicely. It’s not a disaster by any means and thankfully doesn’t make fun of those who get a great deal of joy out of throwing themselves into the experience.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is definitely a film that belongs on Netflix, which isn’t necessarily an insult. But with very little to offer beyond a well-timed brand tie-in, it no doubt could have benefitted from being released earlier in lockdown so as to benefit from the same collective delirium that made Tiger King such a hit.