This was a very confusing experience; I was somehow disappointed yet pleasantly surprised, let down by what should have been the film’s strengths and genuinely touched by what really ought to have been the film’s B plot. “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” should have been in the same league as 2007’s “Blades of Glory” or even 2016’s “Popstar: Never Stop Stopping” considering the subject matter. The annual Eurovision song contest is prime fodder for parody, and save for a couple of ingenious moments, I think that the film played it way too safe and missed out on what really should have been a comedic slam dunk. Strangely enough, the whole thing actually works better on an emotional level; its quite sweet in many ways (largely due to Rachel McAdams’ turn as the female lead, some seriously impressive musical numbers and a touching sentiment of love for one’s homeland).
Plot wise, this follows in the same vein as “Blades of Glory” or “Pitch Perfect” – Icelandic friends Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams) have dreamed of competing in the Eurovision song contest since they were children. They call themselves “Fire Saga” and the film opens with a sensational and ridiculous music video of them both performing their original “Volcano Man” dressed as Vikings and metallic make up while running through an ice filled landscape. Unfortunately reality calls and “Volcano Man” is really only being performed in Lars’ very handsome father’s (Pearce Brosnan) basement and “Fire Saga” is a long running joke in their home town of Húsavík. Fate however, has other ideas in store, and soon “Fire Saga” is representing Iceland in the annual Eurovision Song Contest! Lars and Sigrit have to navigate between ambition and their feelings for each other, while Iceland looks on with bated breath.
The thing is, Eurovision is so bonkers already that it shouldn’t have been difficult to take the piss out of it, yet somehow there are entire stretches of the film without any real laughs at all and very few “Eurovision-centric” jokes at all. How could it be that the actual Eurovision contest itself seems like more of a spoof of itself than this was? The Russian villain who is seeking to sabotage Fire Saga (Dan Stevens) isn’t really that villainous, funny or necessary, the supporting cast was largely forgettable where they should have been larger than life and even the scene when Lars shoves a sock down his leotard seemed only a fraction of the gag it could have been. There are a couple of slapstick mishaps mid performance which are kind of funny I guess, but it almost seemed like the film actively avoids making fun of this world and along the way has lost a lot of the zaniness and outrageousness which makes Eurovision so iconic. This is of course except for the opening “Volcano Man” scene which is inspired and exactly the sort of thing I was excited about and the sort of thing they should have done more of.
However, where the film lacks in laughs it more than makes up for in heart which I was not expecting in the slightest. Rachel McAdams in particular is so charming and endearing as Sigrit, and since Ferrell isn’t really that funny here, she outshines him by quite a bit. In the film’s requisite big number where they throw out the commercialised pop song they had prepared and Sigrit sings her own ballad about their home town, I was genuinely spellbound. There’s a particularly beautiful moment where she breaks convention to sing in Icelandic and the reaction of their friends at home and the Icelandic Eurovision representatives brought me to tears. There aren’t many films that I’ve seen recently which evoke a sense of pride in one’s country or homeland and it was actually really moving.
This was unexpected in so many ways – I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I thought I would, but then again I also didn’t suspect something with Will Ferrell in a spangled Viking costume to be so touching. It’s not the film I had sat down to watch and its definitely not one of Will Ferrell’s best, but its nevertheless endearing and warm in a way that “Step Brothers” or “Talladega Nights” never could have been.
By Jock Lehman