Movie Review: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is about Lars and Sigrit, a band of Icelandic musicians who hope to make it big at Eurovision. Because of sheer dumb luck, the band actually gets their chance at the big show. They become the plucky underdogs of the competition while dealing with their long unsaid and gestating feelings for one another. The film stars Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Demi Lovato, Mikael Persbrandt, Graham Norton, Pierce Brosnan, and as the singing voice of Sigrit, Molly Sandén and as the singing voice of Lemtov, Erik Mjönes. It is directed by David Dobkin and written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele. The film is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
If you want the same exact jokes and performance Will Ferrell has been doing for the last 20 years, this is it. The only fresh material is the references. I'm so exhausted by the perpetual arrested development schtick of Ferrell that I knew I was going to be disappointed by this film as soon as a clip autoplayed on one of my social feeds. I laughed out loud twice. A small bit of physical comedy by McAdams where she's dragged by scarf off a stage by a giant hamster wheel and in my favorite line of all time.
There's a really interesting through line in the film that Sigrit believes in, and asks for help from the elves. It is an Icelandic tradition and a fantastic bit of mythology. So when a ludicrously predictable and over the top thing happens to get Fire Saga into Eurovision, Sigrit shouts in surprise: "The elves went too far!" The delivery, the timing, and the call back all came together in the perfect line. I choose to believe that was a McAdams ad-lib because the rest of this film is so blatantly unfunny.
It's especially unfunny when it comes to Lemtov. In a contest that has been an incredible outlet for LGBTQ+ voices and artists, it would be heartening to have the front runner of the competition be an openly gay man. Yet, Ferrell and Steele, chose to write Lemtov as the entrant from Russia. Russia's draconian, despicable treatment of LGBTQ+ people is well known. To make Lemtov be the butt of the joke, where everyone "knows," but he denies, is disheartening to say the least. No doubt Ferrell and Steele meant it as a jab at the Russian state, but really it only comes off as their pushing the wrong envelope. Lemtov could have been from another country. He could have been utterly fabulous, fierce, and dozens of other clichés, but here he's got to endure the subtext of, "Look at how gay this guy is, wow he's so gay, I can't believe he doesn't say it. Look at Russia, too dumb to notice their hero's gay."
Though there is a lot (A LOT) to shrug and sigh at, there are some moments that are exceptional. Anne B. Sheppard's costumes are gobsmackingly incredible. She has created a world that is so wild and daring. They kept me in awe. The music matches those costumes for style. The singers, with the exception of Ferrell, were just incredible on every level. Don't get me wrong, Ferrell has a good singing voice, but when melded with these angels, he's so out of place. During the final song Sigrit sings, I had full on tears coming down my face, but when Ferrell joins in for the melody I was completely torn out of the beauty of the moment.
Moments are all the spectacular Swede Mikael Persbrandt gets in the film, but he is the funniest piece of the puzzle. His deadpan delivery and dejected demeanor make me want to rework this film from his character's perspective. He had the most intriguing arc and some of the best lines. His put upon pragmatist is simply perfect.
I'm not a fan of the type of comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (that is such a god awful title) is putting into our heads. Maybe the first time Ferrell and crew did this type of thing, but the novelty has worn very thin. I loved the music, I loved the pageantry, but that may just mean I should seek out the actual Eurovision competition (whenever the world is next able to hold it) and not watch some American's version of what could be funny about the competition. Especially when it feels like there's a twinge of jealousy it's a contest the United States will never win because we're not invited. If you like what Will Ferrell's been selling his entire career, you'll be fine turning this one on, otherwise, skip it. It's not worth the two hours of your life.