The rich history of European cultural phenomenon, the Eurovision Song Contest, dates back 1959 spawning countless iconic artists, hundreds of songs, dozens of countries, and countless millions of viewers. Netflix and Will Ferrell combine forces to try and capture some of that magic in one of the first narrative features centred on the contest – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Given the sacred place of the event in the hearts of millions of Europeans, Ferrell is undoubtedly faced with a mammoth task – approaching this with the curious intrigue of an American citizen, albeit with the support of Eurovision organisers, the European Broadcasting Union.
The result is an undeniably mixed bag and one that leans towards the term disappointing. Not particularly satisfying as a tribute towards the Contest, nor for those looking for a dose of Ferrell’s madcap humour – The Story of Fire Saga sits in a strange middle ground – simply just existing to the benefit of very few people.
Andrew Steele and Ferrell write this comedy which sees Icelandic musicians Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) see their dreams of representing their home nation at the Eurovision Song Contest come true. Romantic tension within the pair’s relationship and the undue influence of some of their musical competitors puts a spanner in the works that could see their dreams of Eurovision victory come crashing down.
David Dobkin (The Change-Up, Wedding Crashers) directs the project which ultimately fails to capture the magic of Eurovision – instead centring on cliched notions of camp and European strangeness. Of course, Eurovision viewers know that these do exist but the Contest is an undeniably more serious affair now (Sweden are never going to enter with a song called ‘Coolin’ With The Homies’). Much of the humour is centred on American cliches of Europeans such as accents and folklore. Ferrell’s slapstick makes up much of the humour – none of which lands particularly successfully. The context of Eurovision purely serves as a canvas for Ferrell to deliver his expected level of humour.
Steele and Ferrell, do manage to capture of the structure of the Contest fairly well (perhaps other than the manner in which points are dished out in the Semi-Finals) dipping into Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin national final, the ESC Semis, and ultimately the grand final. The very nature of watching the somewhat engaging Lars and Sigrid competing through these heats is enough to invest us in their journey. The chemistry between Ferrell and McAdams is also mostly successful and the ups and downs of their relationship adds some emotive narrative tension.
Praise should also go to the stunning locations used throughout the film. Fire Saga captures a mythical beauty in the Icelandic locales which is completely visually arresting. The home of the Contest, Edinburgh, also provides some character to the film with the city’s Old Town, Acropolis, and Glasgow’s Hydro shining as a suitably convincing canvas for the tale.
The soundtrack produced by a variety of musical talents is another of the film’s strengths. The promotional track Volcano Man was a slice of synthpop goodness capturing the kitsch side of the Contest, whilst the duo’s entry Double Trouble feels like a potential Eurovision success story (akin to KEiiNO’s Spirit in the Sky). McAdam’s character Sigrid (vocals provided by Swedish Junior Eurovision and Melodifestivalen star Molly Sanden) performs a touching Euroballad titled Husavik also. However, the film’s strongest scene and musical piece is a medley from some famous Eurovision faces – including winners Loreen, Jamala, Netta, Alexander Rybak, and Conchita. Other Eurostars including Jon Lundvik and Bilal also contribute to the medley which features ABBA’s Waterloo, Cher’s Believe and Madonna’s Ray of Light.
Prioritising Ferrell’s brand of humour – and not even that humour at its strongest – means that fans of the Eurovision Song Contest are likely to left somewhat unsatisfied by The Story of Fire Saga. There is enjoyment to be found in the musical numbers, settings, and slightly engaging narrative – but this is undeniably a patchy watch that does not quite hit the spot.