In light of this year’s pandemic, much has changed in our world, one of which (although minor on grand the scale of things) is the cancellation of the Eurovision Song Contest. Some people will be mortified that the event is called off. Others will be delighted that the colourful singing contest is not going to be ringing in their ears for a change.
Luckily, for the last couple of years, Will Ferrell has been working on a comedy for Netflix that is based around the contest, and it was due to be released at the same time – so for those missing out on the festivities, there is at least something to provide your yearly dose of Eurovision fever, available now on Netflix. Spoilers ahead.
A Eurovision dream for Will Ferrell
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga bases itself around the story of Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (played by Rachel McAdams), best friends from Iceland who love music and have shared a dream from Lars’ childhood, of one day, winning the Eurovision song contest. They are selected to perform in the national qualification show for the competition. The audition goes terribly. Yet, following the explosive death of the other entrants on a boat, only they are left to represent Iceland.
The film is reminiscent of Blades of Glory, the great zany Will Ferrell comedy from 2007, in some ways. It parallels many of Ferrell’s comedies over the years – if you have seen any of his films then I think we can agree there’s a lot of similarity in what he does. The question is at this point is if the joke is getting old – I think progressively over the last few years he is losing his shine and we know his tricks all too well.
There’s a strangeness about The Story of the Fire Saga – it is a funny film but far from laugh out loud. It’s moments of sniggering if anything – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. It’s a film that perhaps works very well for the fans of Eurovision. The movie is littered with references and cameos. Some I picked up on such as the band that very much looked like Lordi, the heavy metal winners for Finland from 2006 and the hamster wheel, a reference to a performance from Ukraine a few years back where Mariya Yarechuk performed her song in a giant wheel.
There’s even the obvious nods, like commentary from Irish TV personality Graham Norton (although his usual and unscripted quips are much funnier and far more biting) and the presentation of the scores for different countries with the infamous “Nul points”. But there is plenty more in there I did not pick up on in a single viewing, fastidiously detailed in this New York Times article.
But the story itself it’s perhaps what saves the film. It’s clumsy and obvious and silly, but for some reason, it feels like it has a lot of heart. The dream of reaching such a competition is obvious. But what it means to a smaller country and the local people of Iceland in this case, demonstrated something new to me. Perhaps it’s the impact that can be felt, and the feelings that can be expressed by smaller nations like Iceland. The effect it can have on the indigenous people back home is quite powerful.
A story of fire and ice
There is also a nice story of the father never being able to get close to his son, feeling embarrassed and not understanding his dream. But in the end, he feels the pride and understands what it means to him, his son and his fellow countrymen. His father incidentally is played terribly but also brilliantly by former 007 Pierce Brosnan. Terribly in the case of the awful accent, but brilliantly in the sense that gives a bizarre performance that you can’t take your eyes off – much like his appearance in Mamma Mia.
Through the colourful disco balls and the campy glitz of the excessive parties in Edinburgh, the host city for the event in the film, to the baron but beautiful landscapes of Iceland, the films locations look stunning. The production value is high and one upshot is that this movie is shot very well. It captures the parallels between the day to day normality of life back home and expertly flips this to show the excessive and frenetic stage performance at the glamorous contest, with all of the media circus that surrounds it.
The film is also has lots of great music – including the brilliant “Jaja Ding Dong”, Fire Saga’s Eurovision song, which is so brilliant I can imagine it being a hit on the dancefloors of nightclubs across the world once we are allowed to do that again.
There has been criticism from some fans for being inaccurate in areas, with some people nitpicking the at minor inconsistencies in the plot. Apparently, Iceland did not compete in the competition in the year suggested at the beginning of the film, not joining the competition until 1986. But I think if you are looking for some kind of historical accuracy in a silly Will Ferrell comedy, you’re in the wrong place. Of course, it takes liberties with the facts but they’re not going to spoil most people’s experience of watching the film.
I think the ultimate flaw with Eurovision is that it doesn’t feel complete – it seems a bit empty in areas and dragged on way too long without moving the story forwards. The film feels a bit lazy in some respects – silly accents and badly landed cock jokes feel a bit out of touch for some reason.
It’s not a bad effort and as I previously mentioned I think it has heart and merits, but I just think Will Ferrell used to be a lot funnier in the old days. Maybe this is a film that works better for Eurovision buffs – but for me, I can honestly say, I don’t quite get it.
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