With 2020 cascading a series of cancellations on major cultural events, none have hit fans as hard than the postponement of The Eurovision Song Contest. Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, David Dobkin’s musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga has hit Netflix, and while it’ll scratch the itch, it isn’t quite the same. Maybe, just maybe, Iceland is in with a shot this year (the irony being their official 2020 participant was a bookies’ favourite). In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and best friend/possibly-maybe sister Sigrit (McAdams) have been bothering the locals with their entries to the contest for years. After a horrific boating accident incapacitates the official entry, Fire Saga is the only option left for Iceland to stay in the competition.
Will Ferrell plays Will Ferrell. That’s about all you need to know as far as his dedication to character stretches. Occasionally it works, but more often he swings for the punchline and lands in a puddle of bewildering. There are attempts at a Sacha Barron Cohen mockumentary but he isn’t fully committing. Lars is unfamiliar with other customs, socially awkward and frequently talks about his and other’s genitals, because that’s still funny, right? Fire Saga seems indecisive between a conceptual mockumentary and a parody, the significant issue here is that it hasn’t the wit for the former, and in the case of the latter Eurovision is a parody of itself – and a far more successful one.
Everything seems dire, and then, Dan Stevens enters the fray. Extravagant, delectable, and debonair – Stevens has the capability of saving the film, especially when sharing the screen with Melissanthi Mahut, the Grecian representative. The pair’s raised eyebrows and glittering gowns may seem antagonistic at first, but their sequins and ferocious nature belay a shockingly persuasive background of development. The Russian entry, Stevens’ opulent flamboyance sparks conversations of recent Russian acts displaying a ‘campiness’; Eurovision one of the only acceptable occasions where they can be open without fear of persecution. It’s a small touch, and in the grand scheme of Ferrell’s antics is surprisingly, and touchingly, subtle in its quiet condemnation of Russia’s attitudes towards LGBTQI+ communities.
Steven’s vocally-dubbed performance makes up for his recent stint in Beauty & The Beast, but if Pierce Brosnan thought this would make amends for Mamma Mia!, the jury’s still out on this one. Fulfilling his obligatory role as the disapproving father, Brosnan’s role is as paper-thin as his accent, joining McAdams in ticking all the boxes of a role which could have been played by anyone.
So, what’s Eurovision without the songs? From Lion of Love to Double Trouble, a smattering of the numbers are evidence of Eurotrash homework. We have it all – power ballads, the risqué fleshy routine, disturbing are-they-siblings duets, and to the film’s credit, a sentimental note on countries choosing to forego the English dominance and perform in their regional language. And when succumbing to a jukebox routine inviting a host of whos-who of Eurovision, the resulting cameos will offer an additional joy for fans of the event, and they’re blended enough so non-Eurovision fans won’t have the momentum disturbed.
Note quite Nul Points – this is still trash. Hot Trash. Hot Euro-Trash. Thing is, it’s like the event itself – a hideous idiom – you’ll either enjoy this or won’t get it. With tighter alignment, embracing what it gets right and ditching what was forced and contrived – this could have been an exceptional musical comedy. As it is, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga begins tacky, rises like a phoenix but ends up losing its (bucks) fizz as the runtime stretches, save for the occasional glitter bomb.
Available to stream on Netflix now