July 30, 2020Movies
The movie starts in the 70s with young Lars sitting sadly by himself while a party of adults is in the background. He is snapped out of his funk by the sounds of ABBA on the television and starts dancing along. Relatable!!! He decides then and there that someday he is going to win the Eurovision Song Contest for his home country of Iceland. He is joined in his musical epiphany by Sigrit, who dances along with him.
Fast forward to present day when, through a series of unlikely events, Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit’s (Rachel McAdams) band “Fire Saga” is selected to represent Iceland at the contest. Shenanigans ensue.
Thoughts from Your Pop Culture Concierge
Will Ferrell joints are definitely of the “your mileage may vary” persuasion. I love him in Elf and the “More Cowbell” sketch from SNL. And I totally respect the complete abandon with which he throws himself into comedy. But often the man-child stories he helms just don’t appeal to me.
So I was thoroughly, pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed Eurovision Song Contest- The Story of Fire Saga. In this Netflix original, Ferrell plays a lot of the same beats we typically see from him, but with a twist. His Lars is middle-aged and living with his disapproving father (Pierce Brosnan), but he has a job. He can be petty and throw temper tantrums, but he quickly comes to his senses, admits his faults and apologizes. He has a ridiculous haircut and wardrobe but... that’s it, actually. His hair and clothes are ridiculous but that makes them hilarious. He’s half of the singing duo “Fire Saga”, joined by his childhood friend Sigrit, played by Rachel McAdams. McAdams is one of two revelations in this movie. Her line delivery is spotless, often zigging when you think she’s going to zag. She is wide-eyed and, like Ferrell, rather over confident in the quality of Fire Saga’s songs and performances. But McAdams also plays her as observant, astute, and optimistic. Critically, she makes it believable that she is devoted to Lars, even though he can be such a buffoon. They have the same goofy sense of humor as well as some endearing inside jokes. The two characters actually enjoy each others’ company as well as their music, making them a believable pair.
The second delightful revelation in Eurovision is Dan Stevens, who plays Alexander Lemtov, the competitor from Russia. Stevens is probably best known for his role as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, although he was also in the recent live action version of Beauty and the Beast. He was fine in both those roles, but I have to say it’s a huge disservice to the world that he hasn’t done more comedy. His performance is reminiscent of Bronson Pinchot’s scene-stealing Serge in Beverly Hills Cop, but with backup dancers. Every time he shows up in what appear to be his gold lamé pajamas, he delivers some of the film's biggest laughs which, considering the company, is pretty amazing.
Even though this is a comedy, the music is actually credible. The songs are often full of double-entendres (particularly Fire Saga’s signature tune, “Ja Ja Ding Dong” - which plays out just about as you’d expect) and Lemtov’s “Lion of Love”. But these aren’t just throwaway gags - the melodies are catchy and “Ja Ja Ding Dong” becomes something of a running joke that pays off beautifully. There’s a huge production number about midway through which is incredibly fun, and the glimpses we get of the competition itself are appropriately bonkers.
Finally, I really appreciate how The Story of Fire Saga ultimately plays it straight - this is a phenomenon that is beloved by hundreds of millions of people. And while the movie pokes gentle fun of Fire Saga and Lemtov, it is generally sincere in its appreciation of Eurovision itself. It acknowledges the over-the-top nature of the spectacle, but in a way that says “we are laughing with this glorious ridiculousness, not at it”.
The Story of Fire Saga is one of those movies where you get the feeling that everyone making it was having an awesome time, which then extends to you as the viewer. In the absence of summer’s typical blockbuster popcorn movies, it has proven an unexpected delight and I almost wish I could have seen it on the big screen with a crowd. But, even in my socially distant living room, I had a ball.
Eurovision Song Contest - The Story of Fire Saga
A Netflix Original Movie
Two Hours, Three Minutes
Crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images and language
Will Ferrell (Saturday Night Live, Old School, Elf, Anchorman, The Lego Movie, Step Brothers)
Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls, The Notebook, Morning Glory, Game Night, Spotlight)
Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Legion, Beauty and the Beast)