Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir, Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Dept. of Ja Ja Ding Dongs


In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Lars and Sigrit, childhood pals who dream of winning that zany European battle of balladry. The duo, who call themselves Fire Saga, have been stuck performing the same repertoire at the local bar in their small village of Húsavik. They finally get their big break when certain plot machinations result in them being selected as Iceland’s Eurovision entry. Hijinks ensue.

Directed by David Dobkin, the movie is very much a part of the comedy tradition that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay pioneered with Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Not just because of its overstuffed title, but because it conforms to the same style and format we’ve seen so many times before in movies like Blades of Glory, Semi-Pro, and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as viking singers in Netflix's Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: So before we get into it, I need to tell you about my abiding love for Eurovision. I love this thing. And not ironically either. Every year, my friends and I would throw Eurovision parties, we’d cast votes, we’d provide cutting Graham Norton-esque commentary, and we’d even try to theme the food we served to that of the host country. We were all in. I loved the contest because it always felt like something really genuine and sincere. Everyone there felt like a true believer.

Iain McNally: That’s the kind of sentiment I expect from someone from a non-Eurovision country. You merely adopted Eurovision. I was born in it; moulded by it. I didn’t even realise that NOT watching the Eurovision was even an option until I was already a man! That said, it was a very “nice” marker of the years going by. I’ve not kept up with the points system, but as I remember it, it was one night with all the countries. Now there are semi-finals and all sorts of other accommodations to make it more… enjoyable!? We would sit there as kids eagerly watching the results come in from the various juries all over the continent. FOR HOURS. Until that glorious day that Ireland won in my living memory. In 1987. and then again, and again, and again! (Seven times total!)

How ironic then that this, officially sanctioned, Eurovision movie was scheduled to come out the one year that there is no Eurovision!

UA: Which is a real bummer. Because I think that it would have been fun to see this thing coincide with the actual contest. I do, however, have very mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, I love that it wasn’t snippy about Eurovision. This was something that was made by people who clearly have an affection for their subject matter. And a lot of the time, I found that the movie was laughing with Eurovision and not just at it. The movie found its laughs in the eccentricities of the contest and not at its expense. Which brings me to my biggest issue with the film. There just wasn’t enough humour. It just didn’t make me laugh as much as I wanted it to.

IM: Right. We’ll get to what doesn’t work later, but what really surprised me was how well the film nailed the feel of the actual Eurovision. Frequently through the movie I found myself saying, “this really is like the real Eurovision,” or ”the songs are actually like that,” to my non-Eurovision nation girlfriend. From the cheesy, non-native English speaking hosts struggling through canned English phrases, to the extravagant costumes and stage shows, to Dan Stevens pointing out that “everybody hates the UK,” those moments all felt like Eurovision to me.  It was nearly all the stuff in Iceland, along with Will Ferrell and Rachael McAdams, that fell flat for  me. 

Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong, Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir in Netflix's Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.

UA: This thing runs over two hours and we could have done without a lot of that Icelandic setup. Cut it down by 30 minutes, shift the focus to the insanity of the actual song contest, and this would have been a lot funnier. The problem with everything in the first act was that we were expected to laugh at who these losers were, as opposed to actually giving us good comedic material. In fact, it was only once the (always incredible) Dan Stevens shows up as Alexander Lemtov, that I actually started laughing out loud. (I was disappointed to learn that he wasn’t actually singing “Lion of Love.”)

Dan Stevens as Alexander Lemtov in Netflix's Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

IM: I was bitterly disappointed to find out that it’s only Ferrell who sings on the songs. They really should cast singers in those roles. Then again, maybe those actors wouldn’t have been able to capture that Eurovision spirit. I did find Rachael McAdams seemed utterly lost in the first half of the movie. Ferrell, as usual, commits to every moment, no matter how ludicrous, but her performance felt like they used all the wrong takes. She felt like the newbie at the improv troupe who wasn’t quite comfortable riffing, and resorted to mugging a lot of the time. That said, I felt she improved in the second half. But I also watched the movie in two parts. Perhaps like the Eurovision Song contest itself  (which has been split into a number of pre-selection semi finals since 1993) this is a movie that is better split up into more manageable chunks. The second, Edinburgh set, half of the film felt like a different, better movie.

UA: Everything that I liked about the movie took place in that second half. That Pitch Perfect style “song-a-long” where Ferrell and McAdams took a step back and let previous Eurovision winners take centre stage. It was great seeing Bilal Hassani, John Lundvik, Jamala, Alexander Rybak, Netta Barzilai, and Conchita Wurst do their thing. I loved watching all of the mock over-the-top performances. And I really enjoyed the music in general. The crazy thing was that none of the moments I liked in the movie featured our leads.

IM: Conchita Wurst is the last name I recognised from the list of winners, having drifted away from Eurovision over the last few years. I was disappointed not to see any past Irish winners in there. Did I mention that Ireland has won seven times? The most of any other country? 

The music is phenomenal though. Even the spoof “Volcano Man” at the beginning  is incredibly catchy, and that final song almost brought a tear to my eye. It always amazes me how easy it seems for some songwriters to pen a “hit song” for a movie, when it appears so difficult in real life.

For our leads though, Ferrell needs to do a lot more than the lazy schtick he’s been doing the last few years. He actually has TWO man-baby meltdowns in this movie. That’s too much, even for someone as practiced at the art of being a man-baby as him. That second freakout, after their eventful night at Eurovision, felt completely superfluous to the plot. There was no need for him to go back to Iceland for dramatic stakes. That whole sequence was made interminable by the one low aspect of the score. The background music was this dull looping track that made the sequence feel like it went on forever.

Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong, Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir in the new Netflix comedy.

UA: This was the point in the movie at which I pulled out my phone and Googled “Reykjavik to Edinburgh Flight Time.” This was the point at which all suspension of disbelief went out the window. Which I think was a real failure of writing. Because they had two whole hours to play with and decide to cram about four major plot points in those 10 minutes. So much so that none of them really end up having any emotional heft.

IM: They literally had Lars fly back to Iceland for a realisation he could have had in the car park outside the stadium. I guess maybe it was an excuse for more Pierce Brosnan. I must say I enjoyed his promotion from Commander Bond to Captain Birdseye. He’s becoming the dictionary definition of a “Silver Fox.”  

Pierce Brosnan as Erick Erickssong in Netflix's Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.

UA: The only good thing that my girlfriend had to say about this movie (she absolutely hated it) was, “good God, he’s still so hot,” every time Pierce Brosnan was on screen.

IM: I do think the storyline about Iceland not being able to afford the cost of hosting Eurovision if they won was another authentic touch. Ireland was getting spooked after their second win in a row, as we weren’t a rich country, because putting on this show is bloody expensive. I mean that has to be the only explanation for why we entered a rubber turkey puppet in the contest in 2008.

I’ll wait here until you watch that.

UA: Sweet baby Jesus. This is perfection. 

IM: No my friend, perfection is “JaJa Ding Dong!”

UA: That damn song has been stuck in my head for days! DAYS! I actually had to look it up to see if it was actually Icelandic. They were either that convincing, or I’m that racist to think that they would actually have such a “folk song.”

IM: It’s not even a “Eurovision song,” but as far as Eurovision adjacent songs go, it’s right up there with “My Lovely Horse” from Father Ted in the catchiness stakes.

UA: Will Ferrell hasn’t had a real, honest-to-God success in a very long time. And I’m not sure if it’s because his schtick is getting old, or if he hasn’t yet found the right material. That being said, with the coronavirus quarantine, this might end up being his biggest hit. It’s ranked number one on Netflix all over the world (a self-fulfilling thing, I know). It’s light-hearted enough to be the kind of movie people put on and then not think about. So it might end up doing very well because of circumstance. It would be impossible to speculate how this would fare had it been a theatrical release. But I don’t think it would has much commercial potential in that sense. 

IM: I think Ferrell is due a career reinvention. He’s too old now to be playing these overgrown children. It was funny for the last couple of years, but I’d love to see him try a different style of comedy for a change. Or even play the straight man. As for Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, to give the film it’s full title (how did this get past marketing?), there are other avenues available if you really, really want to hear Graham Norton say “shit.”  

UA: He really needs to stop doing these extended SNL skits. (Sidenote: Did the producers just play the movie for Graham Norton on an iPad and have him record his reactions? Some of those felt so disjointed.)

IM: Disjointed? You mean like all of Demi Lovato’s appearances in this movie?

UA: Ba-dum-tish! So what’s the verdict? For me, this is a movie that I will likely quickly forget. It isn’t in any way re-watchable like those early Ferrell/McKay flicks. (Nor does it have any quotable or memeworthy catchphrases.) That being said, I will likely still be listening to those songs a few months from now.

IM:  Well, you know it takes “All Kinds of Everything” (Dana, 1970) to make a Eurovision song, or movie. These “Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids” (Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan, 1994) don’t quite have it. As I was wondering, so many times, “Why Me” (Linda Martin, 1992), while asking my girlfriend to “Hold Me Now” (Johnny Logan, 1987). But in the end, the feeling I was left with, when it comes to Eurovision, was ultimately, “What’s Another Year” (Johnny Logan, 1980).

UA: I don’t know why we bothered doing this when we could have just given people that one magnificent paragraph!

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
123 minutes
Director: David Dobkin
Writers: Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele
Cast: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, Melissanthi Mahut, Demi Lovato, Jamie Demetriou, Natasia Demetriou, and Graham Norton

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is now streaming on Netflix.

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